olallieberries pie Swanton Berry Farm
Food & Drink

Olallieberries are a Taste of Summer in Santa Cruz

Brief, flavorful olallieberry season is upon us, even as the fruit struggles in the drought

Sam Lustig of Swanton Berry Farm with a freshly baked olallieberry pie. PHOTO: CHIP SCHEUER

I discovered olallieberries at the Swanton Berry Farm one weekend when I was in college. That Saturday, we turned a few miles south of Davenport at the yellow pick-up truck carrying a comically large wooden strawberry, and my old, low-bottomed Acura crawled up the dirt drive toward the farm stand. We stopped in to see what sort of instructions we needed to gain entry to their U-Pick organic strawberry fields, and were quickly distracted by a roomful of tasty delights. Amidst the cheesecakes, pies and dozens of preserves, a squat jar of olallieberry jam made me stop—What the heck was an olallieberry? Spooning a healthy purple dollop onto an animal cracker, I discovered this special fruit for the first time. Its deep color and flavor reminded me of the blackberries I used to pick as a kid in the foothills outside of Yosemite, but with the tartness of a raspberry.

It turns out that this hybrid, with Logan and Young berry ancestry, is delicate, finicky and does not ship well. As a result, olallieberries can only be found at a few places along the West Coast, cultivated by die-hards who have fallen in love with their romantic flavor. Santa Cruz happens to be one of those places, and their brief appearance at farmers markets in July and August has become one of the highlights of summer.

Although the U-Picks at Swanton Berry Farm and Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville are closed—the season was especially brief and modest this year due to the drought and other seasonal factors—you can still find their enigmatic flavor around town in the form of pies, jams and even popsicles from said farms. For the over-21 crowd, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing’s seasonal O’Berry Ale is available at the taproom in the Swift Street Courtyard. This refreshing, pink-hued American-style wheat beer is crisp and clean with a hint of that beloved sweet summer flavor, and, like its namesake, is only available for a limited time.

Meal on the Ranch

Monkeyflower Ranch and Garden Variety Cheese are hosting a five-course dinner on the farm outside of Watsonville on Sunday, Aug. 14. The meal is a collaboration with the chef and spirit masters of the event company Street_Social, and will feature homemade cocktails, the Ranch’s carefully raised pork and handmade cheeses. Tickets are $80 and available at gardenvarietycheese.com.

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