In cooler parts of the country, heading for the woods to pick wild blackberries is a summer ritual. There is no need to travel north if you get the craving for berries, however, as freshly-picked olalliberries and boysenberries, both varieties of blackberries developed especially for warmer climes, are grown locally.
According to Lano and Laney Villalobos, owners of The Big Orange fruit stand on the way to Palomar Mountain, boysenberries are an ideal crop for inland North County.
"You have to be a really bad farmer to ruin a patch of boysenberries," she said with a laugh. "They're very hardy, and they don't require much care or much water."
Dozens of leafy bushes laden with delicate white flowers line the Villalobos' extensive berry patch etched against the foothills of Palomar Mountain.
"This was a bramble patch three years ago, until someone gave us our first hundred blackberry plants," said Laney Villalobos. Since then, the couple has been growing boysenberries, which Villalobos said combine "the tartness and vigor of a blackberry with the sweetness of a raspberry." Daily pickings reach close to 60 flats per acre.
Although an established boysenberry patch requires relatively little care, a few steps are necessary to ensure a good crop. "You have to cut back the suckers every fall when the plants die back and leave the main canes on," Villalobos said. "Many people make the mistake of cutting back the canes that will produce berries next season."
The Villaloboses pick daily, and sometimes hourly, to satisfy the customers of their Big Orange fruit stand. "At least half our customers eat the berries before they even get to their car," said Villalobos. She usually serves up fresh boysenberry sundaes during the annual fiesta held June 2 at the historic San Antonio de Pala Mission.
Boysenberries and olalliberries are two different varieties of blackberries. The olalliberry, which is sweeter, darker-skinned, and tapered at the base, matures a little earlier than a boysenberry. To keep berries, layer them, unwashed, in a shallow plastic container, placing paper towels in between the layers, and refrigerate. Rinse gently just before serving. Blackberries make wonderful pies, preserves, jellies or flavored vinegars. The season usually lasts from Memorial Day through the month of June. Berries can be frozen for later use.
The Big Orange, 17166 Highway 76, Pauma Valley CA 92061. 742-1471. Sells through fruit stand and farmer's markets only. Phone orders welcomed. Prices about $1.75 for an 8-ounce basket.
Other sources for local boysenberries include Dick Baughman 726-8545, and John Cantabrana, 941-3258, both organic growers who sell at the Vista and Del Mar farmer's markets. Call to check on availability.