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Almost Time for Berry Picking in Pescadero

One more week and the sweet and tart olallieberries at Phipps Ranch in Pescadero will be ripe for the picking.

It’s a cool, misty morning in June at the family-owned Phipps Country Store and Farm in Pescadero. Rows of olallieberry bushes ripening for picking glimmer in the dew as the sun slowly burns away the fog.

The olallie, a Native American word that means berry, is typcially in season now, and there’s no better place to experience the quiet meditative pastime of berry picking on a farm than at Phipps. Olallieberry season starts in early June, but with the extreme temperature fluctuations and cold and windy weather on the coast this past spring, the season got off to a late start.

Next week, however, after some more days of sunny warm weather, the berries will be ripened for the picking. By the end of June the crop at Phipps is usually loaded with sweet and tart easy-to-pick berries that are also tender and have hardly any thorns. With conditions like this, Olallieberry season can last well into July.

A cross between a blackberry, loganberry and youngberry, the olallieberry originated in 1949 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at Oregon State University, but the tradition of growing and picking the tart and slightly sweet berry has roots right here in Pescadero.

Tommy Phipps started growing the berry in the 1960s on their Pescadero farm, and he quickly discovered how well they grow in the fog and milder temperatures of the coast. They don’t need a lot of heat, so the crops produce a lot here. The fog keeps things cooler so they last longer on the vine, and they don’t mold or mildew as quickly as other berries.

Because the olallieberry was such a growing success, Phipps later introduced the berry to Ron Duarte, third generation owner of Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero, the historic restaurant and bar known for its artichoke soup and homemade olallieberry pies.

Because the olallieberry is approximately two-thirds blackberry and one-third European red raspberry, it resembles a blackberry but is generally larger and sweeter, and has red highlights.

When the berries are ripe they’re sweet enough to eat on their own, but they are little tart, so when making jams and jellies adding sugar is recommended. Bakers also like them because they have tiny seeds and make the perfect filling for pies.

Phipps currently has three types of “u-pick” berries: strawberries, olallieberries, and boysenberries. All of their berries are hand-planted and no pesticides are ever used.

The store was opened later in 1978 and was an old garage building with a dirt floor, a picnic table for the countertop, and a cigar box for the cash register.

As time went by, the store was expanded and today includes a produce area and a dry bean, herb and spice room. A plant nursery is in the back and herb and flower gardens are around the farm. Beyond the store is a barnyard where farm animals and all kinds of birds from pheasants and parakeets to turkeys and peacocks live year round.

Phipps also carries more than 75 heirloom and exotic dry beans with many grown right at the ranch. Like the berries, all of the beans are grown without the use of pesticides and are planted, harvested, processed, sorted, and packaged by hand.

Still, it’s the olallieberry bushes that bring the crowds to Phipps Country Store and Farm, especially this time of year.

If you go:

Phipps Country Store and Farm

2700 Pescadero Road Pescadero

(650) 879-1032

Olallieberries, boysenberries and strawberries are $3 per pound. The cost of berries is in addition to the entrance fee.

Infants/Toddlers to 4 yrs of age: FREE

5 years to 59 yrs of age: $3

Seniors: 60 yrs and up: FREE

Group Entrance Fees: For groups of 15 or more persons who do not wish to pick berries but want to walk around the barnyard or fields, the fee is $3 per person.

Table Reservations: School groups, birthday parties or special occasions of 15 persons or more using the picnic tables, the fee is $25 per group per day. (This fee is for picnic tables and garbage disposal.)

Phipps Country Store and Farm is open year-round during the following hours: April-October, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and November-March, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Amy Fothergill June 23, 2011 at 03:25 PM
I have a great Olallieberry crisp recipe on my blog: http://thefamilychef.blogspot.com/2008/06/olallieberry-crisp-regular-and-gluten.html Enjoy!
Gabriela Segovia-McGahan June 23, 2011 at 04:39 PM
If you can't make the drive to Pescadero, you can pick up a Duarte's olallieberry pie at Ocean Market here in Pacifica. Do call ahead to make sure what's in stock.
Kristine Wong June 23, 2011 at 05:26 PM
Thanks Amy and Gabriela for the tips! Cunha's Grocery on Main St. in Half Moon Bay has Duarte's pies in stock as well. http://halfmoonbay.patch.com/listings/cunhas-grocery-and-country-store
Manuela Seitz-Hipkins June 23, 2011 at 09:29 PM
I see you ladies have pie on your mind:-) Me too and I love to go to Swanton Berry Farm's cafe. It's a nice drive down the coast and I always feel so good to support them. I appreciate Phipps for the Berries, but I am concerned to see the animals in their habitats there. I feel badly for them. Swanton is nice and clean and great for the kids and as you know me: I am all for their organic offerings. Back to pies: what about Pie Ranch? I have never eaten pie there. Amy I feel a pie class coming! How about making marmalade with fruit juice? Have not found organic pectin yet. Have you? What are the ingredients in the Phipps Pies?
Kristine Wong June 23, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Hi Manu, I love Swanton's as well and it's been on my list for a feature, so that will be coming soon. I was down at Pie Ranch last weekend for the workday and missed the pie, but a fellow volunteer said it was very tasty.

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