A fruitful season

  • Pick your own blueberries at Kenburn Orchards in Shelburne. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Susan Flaccus picks some high bush blueberries at Kenburn Orchards in Shelburne. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Susan and Larry Flaccus in their high bush blueberries at Kenburn Orchards in Shelburne. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Susan and Larry Flaccus pick some high bush blueberries at Kenburn Orchards in Shelburne. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Susan Flaccus holds up a hand full of high bush blueberries at Kenburn Orchards in Shelburne. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Blueberries galore at Kenburn Orchards in Shelburne. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Blueberries weigh down the branches of the blueberry bushes at Kenburn Orchards in Shelburne. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Nourse Farms. Staff file photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Seedlings at Nourse Farms in Whately. Staff file photo/Andy Castillo

  • Blueberries in Whately. Staff FILE Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Blueberries seen at Sobieski’s River Valley Farm in Whately. Staff FILE Photo/Andy Castillo

Staff Writer
Published: 8/19/2020 1:48:45 PM

In a year fraught with economic hardship, there’s another side of the coin: Local fruit farmers are reporting a bountiful harvest.
“We’ve had an excellent season. It’s been an excellent crop of blueberries and we’ve had a lot of folks who’ve been very cooperative with the precautions we put into place,” said Larry Flaccus, who co-owns Kenburn Orchards in Shelburne Falls with his wife, Susan Flaccus. Kenburn Orchards sells pick-your-own berries in the warmer months and Christmas trees around the holidays.

Susan Flaccus estimated Kenburn Orchards, which grows nine varieties of blueberries on two acres of land, has sold about a half-ton more blueberries this year over last. Typically, the farm moves around 2 tons of blueberries each season; the current crop has produced 2 ½ tons and counting.

“We’ll be open at least another weekend or two,” Larry Flaccus said, noting the late-season varieties of blueberries, Aurora and Liberty, are ready to be picked.

On the commercial side of local fruit-farming, Tim Nourse, owner of Nourse Farms in Whately, reported that business in 2020 has similarly been going well so far.

“We’ve had a very nice crop of berries — strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, red currents, red raspberries, yellow raspberries, blueberries, blackberries,” Nourse said, noting other varieties produced by the 400 acre farm such as red currants, gooseberries and elderberries. At least in part, Nourse attributes the healthy harvest to this year’s hot summer and last year’s mild winter, which he says allowed the berry plants a chance to mature without being damaged by the cold.

“Last winter, we didn’t have any peaks of cold weather. All of the canes survived pretty well,” Nourse said. “Today, with drip irrigation, it’s almost a blessing to have it dry because you only water when you want and you don’t get water on the fruit when you don’t want it.”

In this, however, the arid summer — which Nourse says is following a recent trend — is a double-edged sword. Machine irrigation lets farmers control how and when the plants are watered. But that requires extra labor, which comes at an additional cost.

“The ‘abnormally dry’ and ‘moderate drought’ conditions that we have been experiencing across the state do present some challenges for fruit growers,” said Elizabeth Hawkeye Garofalo, fruit educator at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Extension Fruit Program at the school’s Center for Agriculture. “Newly established plantings have a higher water need than those that have been in the ground long enough to get a solid root system going. This has made irrigation an important part of maintaining healthy crops this year.”

At Kenburn Orchards, Larry Flaccus says during the height of the summer, they irrigated daily, “which had a big cost — but it paid off by having good berries,” he said.

Additionally, Garofalo noted this year’s weather has kept the plants healthy by keeping away pests.

“The drier conditions reduce the severity and occurrence of many plant diseases that growers have to grapple with each year. This is especially helpful as fruit are more susceptible to rot diseases when they are ripening. 2020 is turning out to be a good fruit year in spite of itself,” she said, noting, “Apples are just starting to ripen and look great this year.”

Sonia Schloemann, also of the Extension Fruit Program, noted local growers have adapted to both the environmental challenges and those associated with the pandemic.

As difficult as it’s been for family-owned operations to adhere to state-mandated prevention guidelines — masks must be worn in pick-your-own fields, everything needs to be sanitized, pickers can’t bring their own buckets, for example — the requirements have brought economic opportunities for smaller-scale agricultural businesses.

“Most farm markets have seen a big increase in sales because people (would rather) go into the farm market, where there aren’t as many people, instead of going into the supermarkets,” Nourse said. “Most (farm market owners) report that their sales are up because” customers want to avoid crowds. He noted Ceisluk Market in South Deerfield and Foster's Supermarket in Greenfield, which both offer fruit from Nourse Farms, as two local examples.

“The demand for pick-your-own fruit, roadside stands and at farmers’ markets has exceeded expectations and it looks like that will continue through the fall with apples,” Schloemann said. “I think this is due to folks wanting to get outside and do something wholesome and healthy, especially with their family.”

Looking to the future, Nourse says he’s optimistic that next year’s climate will also be favorable for the region’s fruit harvest. This is good news for everyone, including those who aren’t farmers. A bountiful fruit harvest provides another kind of opportunity — the baking of decadent deserts bursting with juicy flavor.

Susan Flaccus’s Blueberry Pound Cake with Fresh Lemon Glaze

Zest and juice of two lemons

1 cup butter

1 ½  cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 cup plain yogurt, Greek yogurt, or sour cream

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 pint fresh or frozen blueberries

Flour for dredging

Glaze option one:

Granulated sugar

Lemon juice

Glaze option two:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 10-inch tube (easier) or Bundt pan (prettier). In a large bowl cream butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each. Stir in yogurt, and then add sifted dry ingredients. Toss blueberries in flour so they won’t sink, and stir them into mixture. Turn mixture into prepared pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until cake tester inserted into the thickest part comes out clean.

Remove cake from oven and let cool for 15 minutes, then invert cake onto a rack and let cool another 15 minutes upside down. Remove pan, and place right side up. Glaze the still warm cake. The first glaze soaks into the cake more than the second one, and has less sugar, so that it is the one I have used most often.

Note: It is a good idea to measure the lemon juice before making the cake. If you have more than ¼ cup, throw it into the batter. Or you can always use another lemon for juice, depending on how lemony you like your cake. 

Susan’s Easy Lemon Curd — great with fresh blueberries

2/3 cups sugar

Zest of two lemons

½ cups lemon juice, or to taste

3 eggs

2/3 cups very cold butter

Mix lemon zest and sugar in the top of a double boiler and let it sit a bit while you juice the lemons. Add eggs and lemon juice and whisk until well blended and smooth. Cut butter into small cubes. Add to the mix. Only then put the pot onto very low heat. Stir almost constantly. Your goal is to melt the butter into the mix, and thereby prevent the egg from cooking solid.

When the mix is thick, remove from heat and, if desired, put curd through a fine sieve to remove the zest. If you do this, the curd will be silkier. Put plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd to prevent a film from forming and refrigerate until needed. It works as well to multiply recipe by 1.5 or 2 if you need to feed lots of people.

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@recorder.com.




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