Adventures with the Drayers – picking our own berries

Oregon is known for its berries, but we haven’t taken much time to really celebrate them yet. We decided we should go berry-picking.

Pick-your-own inspiration

This isn’t the first time berry-picking has been part of my creative process – I made our blueberry-picking adventure into one of my most successful designs as Copper Catkin, my craft market design brand.

In the same way, I used the berry bushes on the road to our house in New Zealand as inspiration for Brambleton, one of the games we are developing now.

One of my illustrations for Brambleton

I wonder what our trip to Columbia Farms U-Pick will inspire?

We had a lovely breakfast at the Elmer’s restaurant round the corner from our place. I decided to try my luck with a German pancake, although I misunderstood and thought I had ordered fresh strawberries – the strawberry sauce was a bit too sweet and syrupy for my mood, so I ate around it in the end. I will definitely order the German pancakes again, though – just with lemon and sugar in future, though!

Columbia Farms and Sauvie Island

We’ve been to Sauvie Island once before, so it wasn’t an unfamiliar destination. There are a lot of farms on the island, and the hardest thing was actually to choose which farm to visit. I ended up picking Columbia Farms based on the range of berries they had available – they seemed to offer the greatest variety.

So we enjoyed our breakfast then headed out, arriving just after they opened around 9am.

The fields at Columbia Farms are laid out on both sides of the road. The berries we most wanted to pick were raspberries, so we took the advice of the people in the kiosk and headed across the road. We were early enough to get a trolley, which made things easier, and we got a very decent coffee and some bottled water to take with us. We were also early enough that when we got to the rows of brambles, most of them were empty.

Picking raspberries is really satisfying – they pop off neatly into your hand when they are ripe. It’s a really meditative and soothing activity, and the quiet, overcast but warm morning was really pleasant. The raspberries were perfectly ripe and plentiful, and it didn’t take a long time to fill up half of our punnets with beautiful, aromatic fruit.

By the time we had finished gathering our raspberries, the weather was really heating up. There were quite a few options to fill the rest of our berry punnets. We had hoped to get some huckleberries, but they don’t seem to be farmed commercially, and the blueberries weren’t cropping, so we decided to try for the marionberries and boysenberries. On the way, we spotted the sign for something we hadn’t head of before – “black caps” – which to me are the national men’s cricket team of New Zealand, not a berry.

I noticed that they grew on canes, like raspberries, rather than brambles, but the canes were messier. Unlike the blackberries they ressemble, they have a firm texture. They reminded me of the firm, chewy fruit jubes that I enjoy, although the flavour is different – somewhere between a blackberry and a raspberry. Turns out, they are also known as thimbleberries, which makes a lot of sense, given how well they hold together, and black raspberries. Aha! I have heard of black raspberries, but I haven’t ever seen or tasted them! So that’s what these are!

Anyway, they will have been towards the end of their season and much harder to harvest, so we only got one punnet of them.

After that, we went for the marionberries, which are also an unfamiliar berry to a Kiwi. They are extremely popular here, much as boysenberries are in New Zealand, and at first I thought they were two names for the same thing – but they definitely aren’t. I can see why they are so popular – they are less delicate than boysenberries, and they taste similarly wonderful.

We got 4 punnets of marionberries, then one of boysenberries.

Every berry requires a different technique to pick. As I mentioned, ripe raspberries fall off into the hand, and the slightly firmer black caps are similar – even slightly easier. Marionberries, like blackberries, are firm but delicate, and require a softly firm grip, or they burst. Boysenberries, though, are the most difficult – they balance delicately on the edge of overripe, and if you handle them even slightly incorrectly, they disintegrate all over the place. By the end of the morning, we were getting the hang of it, though.

We got the most amazing haul of berries – I can hardly describe the scent of them. It brought back memories of picking raspberries in my Grandad’s garden, or gathering illicit blackberries from the bushes on the way to school. Summer, sweet bursts of flavour, and making delicious jams are some of my happiest memories. It was wonderful to be able to continue adding to them, here in the Pacific Northwest, land of the berry.

Here’s the video of our berry picking adventure:

Making jam

Once we got back, it was time to plan for making our berries into jam, so we washed the jars and lids in the dishwasher. On the day of, we sterilised them in the oven, which also makes it safer to fill them with molten-hot liquid jam.

The amazing colour as ripe raspberries become jam was more than my phone’s camera could capture.

Here’s the video of us making the jam:

The recipes we used are in the video, if you want to pause it, but I have also put them here.

Raspberry jam recipe

We made this using pretty much the traditional Kelly family recipe. In this case:

just over 12 cups of berries
just over 11 cups of sugar
a tablespoon of lemon juice
a couple of pinches of salt.

Boil washed berries for 5 minutes at over 105°C
Remove entirely from heat immediately and pour into jars.

Yield: 8 medium (16oz) Ball jars of jam

Marionberry and Boysenberry jam recipe

We made this jam using my improvised recipe, based on several online:

7 cups of squashed berries
For every cup of squashed berries, add 3/4 cups of sugar
The juice of 3 small lemons
A pinch of salt


Squash the washed berries, then measure them
Add sugar, juice, salt
Bring to a simmer then maintain at that temperature until it has halved in volume (approx. 2 hours)
Remove entirely from heat immediately and pour into jars.

Yield: 4 medium (16oz) and 4 small (4oz) jars of jam

Trifle recipe

Everyone makes trifle a bit differently, and some people have fierce opinions about what does and doesn’t belong in a trifle. In my family, we make it like this. The photos in the post are from several trifles I have made over the years.

Bottom layer

Slice a trifle sponge in half horizontally, then make a sandwich with raspberry jam in the middle. Cut the trifle sandwich into “fingers”. Firmly wedge the fingers into the bowl, vertically, with the sides facing outwards to look pretty. Pack them in tightly against the sides and bottom, so that they form a second bowl within the first bowl, reaching about halfway up the sides.

Spoon the mixture of milk/cream and sherry over the sponge, then press down gently with the back of the spoon to pack it in tightly. At this point, if you wish, you can add another layer of jam on the bottom. Cover and refrigerate to chill well.

Filling layers

Each of these layers needs to be cool and semi-set so that it doesn’t melt the previous ones, but not so set that it won’t set properly once poured in. I usually make the jelly/jello first, and put it in the fridge to set most of the way while I make the base.

Pour or spoon semi-set raspberry jelly (aka jello in the USA) into the chilled sponge bowl until it reaches the top. Refrigerate until set.

Make custard (I usually use a packet custard mix, but you can make it from scratch, or use a pudding mix). Fill the sink with water about half the depth of the pot, then set the pot into the sink to cool. Once the custard is cool enough to touch, chill in the fridge until almost set, then pour the custard over the back of a large spoon on top of the jelly layer.

Once the custard is set, whip cream and spread it in a thick layer on top of the custard. When you are ready to serve, decorate it with fresh fruit – we usually use raspberries or strawberries.

Portland adaptations: we can’t get custard powder or trifle sponge at every supermarket here in the USA the way you can in New Zealand, so while I was able to order some British custard powder, I didn’t feel like baking a sponge just to let it go stale enough for trifle, so I decided to try it with a supermarket pound cake. Definitely too sweet and too crumbly/cakey, but not a terrible solution. For the two mini trifles in the video, I split the usual recipe between two 41oz glass IKEA containers, which are perfect portions to serve 2 people and store nicely in the fridge.

Published by Drayer Ink

Artist, designer, ideas person

7 thoughts on “Adventures with the Drayers – picking our own berries

  1. Curious to see what game design this will inspire. Making Jam or Picking Berry is a unique theme on it’s own.

    1. Well, it’s certainly partly helping me get back on track with Brambleton, but there is another idea lurking… We will see if it turns into anything!

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