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SIZE, FLAVOR OF THORNLESS BLACKBERRIES MAY SURPRISE

SHARE SIZE, FLAVOR OF THORNLESS BLACKBERRIES MAY SURPRISE

When Grandpa Young planted his first fruit trees on the family orchard near Willard Bay, it was 1860. More than 130 years later that same acreage produces fruit for the Young family, but the type of harvest has changed.

Brothers Stan and Greg Young now tend patches of thornless blackberries, a variety tested by the Utah State University farm research associates.`The berry is a hardy variety that has been developed for this type of climate," explains Stan, a plant science professor at USU, "but that didn't protect it from the winters of 1989 and 1990; we lost almost all our plantings to winter kill."

Last summer proved different. The Young brothers produced more Willard Bay berries than they knew what to do with. Roadside stands and local street corners bubbled over with cases of the inch-long, bumpy berry.

Blackberries require an introduction to the public at large, Stan says. The berry owns a reputation for being tart and sour, but when blackberries are picked at the proper ripening stage their flavor is robust.

"Most people remember wild Oregon blackberries," says Susan Young, Stan's wife. "That variety is much smaller and juicier and has been used in most recipes for blackberries. If people are familiar with blackberries at all, they know the Oregon wild variety."

That fact explains the surprise they get when they discover the size and flavor of the thornless berries.

A fresh bowl of berries, sugar and cream is enticing, but Susan suggests consumers replace red raspberries with blackberries in any raspberry recipe.

"Blackberries make wonderful pies and cobblers," she adds. "I make a pie filling and freeze it for later in the season. Or I make freezer jam using the raspberry recipe. The blackberry flavor is so intense. I also bottle the berries in a light sugar or honey syrup, then use them as a garnish for applesauce or pears; they make a gorgeous color contrast to the other fruits."

Susan's even made fruit leather with the abundant blackberry harvest, but thinks most consumers will find the berries too expensive to puree into leathers.

"You can mix a few berries with applesauce to make a leather," she suggests. "That way you get the color and the flavor without using so many berries."

Using the blackberries may generate questions for the strawberry- or raspberry-bound consumer, but the change to a darker-colored berry produces a delightful surprise. - Ann Whiting Orton