Tag Archive | berries

Make Your Own Gin

Tired of the same old fruits and vegetables? Looking for a new challenge? Maybe you could try making your own gin. The plant you need is the common juniper, Juniperus communis. Although the drink is a Dutch invention — the word ‘gin’ is a corruption of the Dutch name for juniper — the British embraced it with great enthusiasm in the eighteenth century and turned it into a major business.

Juniperus_communis_conesAlthough common juniper is a single species, this shrubby evergreen varies widely in its growing patterns, from a ground cover to a tree that tops 36 feet. The growing needs of the cultivars are equally various, but almost all of them are tough customers that will adapt to a wide range of soils and climate zones.

Various parts of the pungently aromatic plants have long been used medicinally and are mentioned in countless legends, primarily as aids for warding off evil spirits. But it is the plant’s berries that provide an essential ingredient in gin (as well as providing flavoring for marinades and sauces).

Juniperus_communis_Haweswater

Juniper with both ripe and unripe berries

Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants, so you must have both if you want berries. The 1/4-inch fruit take two years to ripen, turning from green to bluish purple. Both the immature and mature berries may appear on the plant simultaneously, so take care when you gather your harvest.

Junipers grow easily as long as the soil they are in is well drained. While at their best in dry, sunny spots, they will tolerate light shade. Nobody’s perfect, though, and junipers are favorite prey for a number of pests and diseases. Before you buy one that catches your fancy, ask the nursery about its ability to fight off these afflictions.

Harvesting juniper berries: Juniper berries should be harvested when they have ripened to a handsome, dark purple-blue. Ripe and unripe berries may be on the plant at the same time, but harvest only the ripe ones. Before you add the berries to your soups or stews, air-dry them until they shrivel and turn black.

Advertisements

Ripe Fruit

by Sharon Morrisey, consumer horticulture agent for Milwaukee County

Many summer fruits ripen from July through fall. Summer raspberries (Rubus) are next to ripen after June-bearing strawberries (Fragaria ananassa). They are ready to pick when slightly firm, aromatic and flavorful. Pick all ripe berries every couple of days. Overripe fruit attracts picnic bugs, which are no picnic when they feast on your fruit.

vineyard-496224_960_720

Vineyard swathed in netting to protect the ripening fruit

Grape (Vitis vinifera) varieties often look ripe before they actually are. It may take an additional two to three weeks on the vine for the full sugar content to develop. They do not continue ripening after picking, so do not pick until they taste perfectly ripe. Then, use as soon after harvest as possible because they don’t store well.

Stone fruits (Prunus spp.), such as plums, cherries, apricots, and peaches that survived the winter, should not be picked until they are ripe, either. Unfortunately, the birds seem to know the exact minute that occurs. They can devour an entire cherry crop in one afternoon. The only ways to prevent this are to either cover the entire tree with bird netting as soon as the fruit begins developing or use a chemical repellant spray.

As soon as the larger fruits are ripe, birds begin pecking holes in them. A friend of mine checks them daily and at the first sign of pecking, he harvests the entire crop, thus avoiding the use of chemicals and the hassle of bird netting.

apples-689640_960_720

Beautiful, freshly-picked apples

Like grapes, apples often look ripe before they really are, since the outer color often develops first. Start by knowing when the varieties you are growing are supposed to ripen. There are varieties that ripen from early August through October.

  • Lodi – 1st week in August
  • Redfree – 3rd week in August
  • Gala – 2nd week in September
  • Honeycrisp – 3rd week in September
  • Nova Easygro – 3rd week in September
  • Empire – 1st week of October
  • Liberty – 1st week of October
  • Jonathan – 2nd week of October
  • Golden Delicious – 3rd week of October

The best indicator of ripeness is the color of the seeds. When they are completely shiny brown, the fruit is ripe. You may end up sacrificing an apple every couple of days this way, however. Another indicator is more subtle, but involves a change in the shade of green in the skin at the stem end of the fruit. When it turns from a bright, green-apple green to a lighter shade, it’s time to check the seeds for uniform color.