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Oregon's seasonal gift: our berries

It was mid-July, and berries were bountiful at the Corvallis farmers market — from gigantic loganberries and big, fat Spartan blueberries to elegant, little, black raspberries and chic-chic Marionberries.

I was experiencing the blessing and the curse of seasonal produce. It's just so darned seasonal. Swooping in so tantalizing, then faster than a falling star, it disappears from a summer sky. Poof! Gone for another year, leaving a delectable but fading glow on my mind's palate.

Let it go, I chant. A wise mantra for anyone whose pulse quickens at the sight of empty canning jars sparkling in the morning sun, potential written all over them. With more than three decades of preserving under my belt, I can count on one hand the seasons in which I actually got through my entire preseason hit list.

But berries always make the cut, especially caneberries. Indeed, we're a lucky lot here in Oregon. Our berries are exquisite, plentiful and affordable. For the uninitiated, caneberries are, quite simply, berries that grow on a cane. They fall into two basic categories: raspberries or blackberries. If you can get a look at their innards, it's easy to tell the difference. Blackberries come with their center core still attached. If the berry has a hollow center, indicating that the core was left behind on the vine, it's a raspberry.

Then there are the hybrids, which are berries resulting from the crosses made between the raspberry and blackberry. Those include the beloved and wildly popular Marionberry, introduced in 1956 after years of cross-breeding.

Some of the earlier crosses produced the boysenberry, loganberry, Chehalem and Olallie. Berries of one sort or another will stay around through August. And then there always are the wild blackberries that are free for the picking. So just relax. If you want to capture a bit of berry essence for down the road, read on. I've got two wonderful jam recipes to consider.

Even if you've never tackled preserves before, stay with me. Just about every summer, I like to provide step-by-step guidelines for the traditional style of making jam to help those of you just learning to preserve. Give them a once-over while you're not in the throes of sticky fruit and sugar, then refer back to them as you go along.

I'm also sharing a somewhat unique creation. Several years back, I watched Food Network chef Michael Chiarello throw together a lovely-but-loose berry topping for toasted slices of brioche. It was a three-berry mixture into which he drizzled a bit of honey then baked in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. It got me thinking about how I could do something similar with a more traditional-style jam recipe.

My variation also uses three different kinds of berries, but instead of honey, which I think overpowers the flavor of the berries in the context of jam, I used turbinado sugar, which is an underprocessed style of granulated sugar. It gives a hint of caramel taste to the jam, which is quite nice.

I baked my berries at a lower temperature for a longer period, and the resulting jam is wonderful. Balancing somewhere between a jam and a sauce, it drizzles elegantly over ice cream yet could stand up nicely to a puffy muffin or slice of toast.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of five cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.