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Thursday, Aug. 12, 2004 01:56 am

Ramble through the brambles


Fresh blackberries and raspberries, from plants often referred to as brambles, are currently available at local produce stands. Because blackberries and raspberries belong to the same genus, Rubus, the plants and fruits are easily confused. To confuse matters further, fruits are not always true to their names -- for example, there are red blackberries and black raspberries.

Raspberries and blackberries often have similarly sized leaves, thorns, and fruits. One difference is that raspberry leaves have silver undersides but blackberry leaves have dull-green undersides. Another difference: Raspberries, when picked, are hollow, leaving a hard white core (receptacle) behind. Blackberries, when picked, are solid because the core remains in the fruit. Raspberry fruits come in a variety of colors -- red, black, purple, and yellow.

Berries are harvested when they are full color; they will be sour if harvested too early. Red-raspberry fruits should be medium to bright red. Pick fruit in the morning for best quality, and handle with care -- be careful not to bruise or crush the berries. Place them in a shallow container to permit air circulation. The berries should be free of dirt, mold, and decay. Berries, which are highly perishable, may be stored unwashed in a refrigerator for only two or three days. As with most fruits, never soak berries in water, wash them in cold water before eating them, and remove soft or decayed berries.

One pint of berries will provide four or five servings of fresh fruit. Both blackberries and raspberries are a good source of vitamin C. Half a cup of unsweetened raspberries has about 43 calories; a half-cup of blackberries has about 35. Berries are excellent fresh, sugared, and in jams, jellies, pies, and other desserts.

You may find that demand for fresh berries is greater than supply. In the Springfield area there are only a few farm-direct berry growers.

Fresh raspberries are available in limited quantities at the Berry Patch. Call ahead to place and order or for U-pick status. The Berry Patch is located off Route 54 at 11471 Lynn Rd. in Buffalo Hart; the phone number is 217-364-5606

Fresh vine-ripened blackberries are available at Sabattini's. Call ahead to place an order. Sabattini's is located in Springfield at 112 W. Hoechester Rd.; the phone number is 217-529-3620.

Flowers at the Fair

As you meander through the tents, livestock buildings, and corn-dog stands on the grounds of the Illinois State Fair this week, take a minute to admire the beautiful flower displays. White and bright-red salvia, white cleome, and orange and yellow marigolds adorn the base of the Abraham Lincoln statue. These are only some of the 150 different kinds of flowers scattered throughout the fairgrounds. Flowerbeds are tucked around every corner -- 226 in all.

Inmates from the Logan Correctional Center care for the beautiful display of flowers. Correctional officer Jerry Morgan - who, along with two other officers, supervises 12 inmates -- oversaw the planting of the flowerbeds, and he continues to supervise day-to-day maintenance of the massive plantings. The 150,000 flowers at the fairgrounds were started from seed in March by inmates at the Lincoln Correctional Center.

If you need help identifying one of the flowers that you have spotted on the fairgrounds or need help with any gardening question, visit the demonstration gardens of the master gardeners of the University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit. The demonstration gardens are located in front of Building 30, along Eighth Street. The master gardeners will be available between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. each day of the fair.

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