Oregon grows perfect raspberries, blueberries, blackberries. They are ripe, deeply colored, tangy and sweet in a single bite. They grow nearly everywhere, and you can pick them for hours.
Why are they so good here? Growing conditions are perfect , for one thing. Days are warm but not hot. Nights are cool but not cold. Summers are dry, winters are wet, and berries are happy.
Pick some yourself this summer (scroll down for the West's best u-pick farms). And enjoy the harvest in juicy pies, salads, and sorbet.
Next: what to look for (and when)
NORTHWEST BERRIES: WHAT TO LOOK FOR, AND WHEN
Berries are usually sold under their generic names, as blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. The truth is, each type has many hybrids ― which look and taste similar but mature at different times, thus extending the growing season. Occasionally they'll be labeled with their individual names; look for these varieties from the Northwest.
BLACKBERRIES (July through September)
Marionberries The queen of blackberries, against whose deep flavor all other berries are judged.
Boysenberries Sweeter and juicier than marionberries, but less intense.
Wild Evergreen and Himalayan Looked down on by cultivators as bitter and one-dimensional, these are the blackberries that grow on brambles around the West.
Loganberries A blackberry-raspberry cross, the red-hued loganberry dates from the 1880s and was a staple of the berry industry until the marionberry appeared in 1956. It's much bigger than a raspberry and is juicy and sweet, like a blackberry should be.
BLUEBERRIES (June through September)
Duke First to ripen; slightly sweeter than other varieties.
Elliott Midseason; deep flavor makes them particularly good for baking.
Aurora Last to market ― usually well into September.
RASPBERRIES (June, July, and September)
Black Short July season. Drier than red ones; seedy and a bit tart. Hard to find beyond local farmers' markets; available frozen from Sturm's Berry Farm ($57–$70 for 5 lbs., including shipping; 866/402-9058).
Golden Sweeter and more delicately flavored than red ones.
Red Available throughout the growing season; rarely labeled with variety name.
Next: u-pick berries around the West
U-PICK BERRIES AROUND THE WEST
Oregon may well be berry nirvana, but really, anywhere you can find lusciously ripe berries will be heaven. Some tips for pickers: Blackberries are ripe when they have turned from shiny to dull black. Raspberries should fall easily into your hand if you pull gently down on the fruit with your fingers ― the berries "let go" of the plant when they're ripe. If you're lucky enough to find wild blueberries in the West, pick them when they're deep blue, dull, and pull easily off the branch.
Here are some of our favorite U-pick farms around the West (go to pickyourown.org for more choices). Fees vary at each farm, but typically run between $2.75 and $4.50 per pound.
Bybee-Nims Farms Plump blueberries (six types) at the base of Mt. Si. INFO: Mid-Jul–late Aug; 42930 S.E. 92nd St., North Bend, WA; 425/888-5745.
Radke's Blueberries Corvallis family farm with sweet Jersey blueberries, tarter Bluecrop, and Herbert (reminiscent of wild huckleberries), plus bottled blueberry juice. INFO: Jul 9–first week of Sep; 490 S.E. Three Mile Ave., off State 99 west, Corvallis, OR; 541/753-5680.
Sauvie Island Farms Blueberries, marionberries, and raspberries just outside Portland. INFO: Mid-Jun–mid-Sep; closed Sun; 19818 N.W. Sauvie Island Rd., Portland; 503/621-3988.
American River Cherry Co. Blueberries, boysenberries, marionberries, olallieberries, and raspberries. INFO: May 25–Jul 6; closed Sat; 2240 Dias Dr., Placerville; 530/626-3881.
Avila Valley Barn Olallieberries, plus a bakery and sweets shop. INFO: Mid-May–Dec 24; 560 Avila Beach Dr., San Luis Obispo; 805/595-2816.
Julian Mining Company Raspberries, plus hayrides ($3), gold panning (from $5), and tomahawk throwing (from $5). INFO: Sat–Sun mid–Apr–late Dec (raspberry season is Jul–mid-Oct); 4444 Orchard Lane, off State 78, 3 miles west of Julian; 951/845-6029.
Berry Patch Farms Certified organic black, gold, and red raspberries 15 miles north of Denver. INFO: First week of Jun–mid-Nov; closed Sun–Mon; 13785 Potomac St., Brighton, CO; 303/659-5050.