Reading Emily Green's perfect feature on blackberries back in March has had us itching for the early-summer arrival of local blackberry varieties months before the berries started forming on their thorny vines. Kincaid Farm finally made its 2012 Hollywood farmers market debut this week, contributing to the annual summer swelling that occurs every year as harvests increase. Its specialty? Boysenberries and youngberries, which will be here for another two to three weeks.
The only thing similar about these two berries is their color and size. Taste, as always, matters. The pivotal question on which to choose is a decidedly first-world, and pleasing, dilemma: fresh eating or pie and jam? There's no real wrong answer here -- they're both excellent examples of the Rubus genus -- but there are always traits that shine better in one application or another. Our grueling scientific research into this, along with our recommendation, after the jump.
The youngberry is an older variety (think 1905) that came from a menage a trois of three different Rubus species: the "phenomenal" blackberry (which was a blackberry-raspberry cross) and the dewberry. If you've tasted the short-lived ollalieberry, itself a cross of the youngberry and the loganberry, then you have an intimate understanding of what to expect from the youngberry. It shares the highly sweet, low-acid, small to no-seed attributes of the olallie, and has a delicate nature that makes shipping prohibitive. This makes the youngberry our fresh eating champion. It's sweet and unchallenging, making it perfect for a lazy summer mouthful.
The flipside of that is the boysenberry, to which many were introduced via the thick coagulation of preserve from our local kingpin of berry preserves, Walter Knott. An apt choice for jam, actually. The boysenberry has a complex, nearly winelike tartness, and is sharp and almost mineral. It has some sweetness, but it's in balance. Still, after a few we're done -- the flavor builds with each berry, like a jalapeño's heat, and becomes unpleasant. Despite this, Rob Poole of Kincaid Farm actually prefers the boysenberry to the youngberry for fresh eating.
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"I guess I'm a glutton for punishment," Poole says, handing the berries over for a comparison. "I love its tartness. When you're out picking, the smell is everywhere. I just keep eating them."
Poole added that he likes the youngberry, "but it just doesn't have enough zing to it" for his tastes. The 12 acres he picks up in Redlands make him our best expert.
But it's that tartness that brings us back to jam: The tartness and complexity doesn't get lost in the bubbling swirl of sugar, which can happen with sweeter fruits that lack staying power.
Kincaid Farm is now at the Hollywood (Sunday), Redlands (Thursday, Saturday) and Santa Monica (Wednesday) farmers markets for the summer season.