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Homegrown blackberries 'nutritional powerhouse' food

Dark, juicy, healthy fruit delicious as a jelly and cobbler

POSTED: June 26, 2013 1:00 a.m.

As a child, Lindsey Vrahiotes remembers picking wild blackberries in a yard near her parents’ house. The picking usually led to her mother making blackberry jelly.

“It was always really good,” she said. “I think it’s also the best homemade jelly you can get, because it doesn’t taste anything like you get in the store.”

Little did Vrahiotes know her love of blackberries would lead to an unexpected venture into a U-pick blackberry farm, Sweet Acre Farms, in Alto. Now many people travel to her farm each season to pick the ripening blackberries or trek to downtown Gainesville to buy the freshly picked blackberries along with homemade blackberry jelly and other sundries.

“It is one of the healthiest fruits you can eat,” Vrahiotes said. “It’s full of antioxidants. And the darker the berry, the healthier it is.”

Leslie Davis, the bariatric program dietician for Northeast Georgia Medical Center, noted blackberries are not just full of antioxidants.

“It is packed with antioxidants, fiber, vitamin C, potassium and folate,” she said. “You could call them a nutritional powerhouse.”

With that knowledge, Vrahiotes uses blackberries in a few other recipes. She makes not only blackberry jelly — her favorite — but adds them to any smoothies as well. She, in fact, has a desire to make a blackberry glaze for turkey meatballs.

“Blackberry cobbler is my main thing I make,” she said.

Her original recipe was created from using her mother’s method with a few twists.

But several people flock to her stand at the Historic Downtown Gainesville Market on the Square to nab her fresh blackberries. They usually sell out quickly at her stand. In fact, on June 14, Vrahiotes sold all of her blackberries in the her first hour.

Steven Strittmatter of Gainesville discovered Vrahiotes blackberries last year at the downtown farmers’ market. Since then, he treks to the downtown square to purchase the fruit.

“I buy from her every week,” he said. “They are healthy and I like the taste.”

Ginny Early of Gainesville brings her children to the market every Friday and to buy her favorite fruits.

“The taste is good and they are visually appealing, ” the mother of two daughters said. “They are fun to cook with and eat on ice cream. They are the perfect summer fruit.”

Farming the fruit is no easy task. Vrahiotes mother, Judy Crumley of Alto, explained the work is never-ending.

“We are always picking, sorting and making jelly,” she said. “How many young people do you know in their 20s can (foods) and get down and dirty and do the hard work?”

But for her daughter, working on the blackberry farm and canning the fruit as well as making jellies not to mention all kinds of relishes are her “passions.” Her husband, Matthew, is passionate about beekeeping and the honey the bees produce.

Vrahiotes, who works full time as a sign language interpreter for Forsyth County Schools, noted her family’s foray into farming was an “interesting story.”

After graduating from Valdosta State University, Vrahiotes was attempting to sell her house in Valdosta. In the meantime, a neighbor of her family’s was trying to sell his land. Ultimately, a trade was agreed to: the house in Valdosta for the land in Alto.

“We started planting things and that’s how we got into it,” Vrahiotes said.

This past weekend about 40-50 people visited Sweet Acre Farms to pick blackberries.

When she’s not working in the schools or picking blackberries, she spends time making jelly from the juicy fruit.

“I started canning and it’s a dying art,” Vrahiotes said, noting it is something passed down from generation to generation in her family.

Vrahiotes mother, Judy Crumley of Alto, explained her own mother, grandmother and aunts canned foods.

“My grandmother made everything,” Crumley said as she watched her daughter sell her blackberries Friday during the downtown event. “(My daughter) gets some of it from us and some from the classes.”


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