Berry good: the rise of the raspberry in Scotland, and the best places to pick your own
David Pollock goes by Glen Clova and Glen Ample to discover why raspberries are Scotland’s superberry.
The area around Fife, Angus and Perthshire may not be known internationally for its berries. In Scotland, however, the area is celebrated for its richness in red fruits, in particular strawberries, various currants, gooseberries and cherries. Of all of these, it is the raspberry that has forged the strongest reputation for itself.
‘We have good soils here, Grade One and Grade Two, which are nice and fertile,’ says John Laird, partner and farmer at Cairnie Fruit Farm in Fife. ‘But it’s mainly down to temperature and moisture that our raspberries are so good. We have sufficient rainfall without the searing heat you get down in England, but we also get less rain and frost than the west of Scotland; raspberries don’t do well with wet feet, you see. They must be planted in well-drained soil, because they won’t grow well if their roots are waterlogged. As far as temperatures go, somewhere in the 60s or low-70s is best. If they’re up in the 80s or 90s the fruit ripens too quickly, so it doesn’t have the same level of sugar or character of flavour.’
Another factor is the variety of raspberry being used, although the advantage to the producer of using different varietals is in extending the length of time they can harvest through the year. ‘One of the earliest types we have is Glen Clova,’ says Euan Cameron, partner and farmer at Fife’s Pittormie Fruit Farm. ‘It starts to show fruit around the first week in July and then we can go on until November with the likes of autumn bliss. I’m sure some of the tunnel boys have types which are ready even sooner, though.’
As a smaller producer who doesn’t supply to supermarkets, Cameron prefers not to grow his raspberries under polytunnels, although to a larger operation such as Laird’s they’re essential, allowing as steady a stream of supply through as much of the year as possible. ‘Gone are the days when you could call up a supermarket and say you’ve had rain this week, so you can’t supply them,’ he says, ‘That just doesn’t cut it.’
Laird also notes that the canes of longer established varieties such as Glen Clova can last for a decade and more, but that newer breeds such as Glen Ample and Glen Doll last for barely six or seven years, albeit with up to double the yield per cane.
As fruit juices and wines increase in popularity, as healthy breakfasters sprinkle berries on their muesli and as older customers seek out varieties by name to put in their jam, the Scottish raspberry is wrestling back a lot of its market share from the strawberry. Quite simply, says Cameron, raspberries have benefitted from a health-conscious PR boost, although they’re a more labour-intensive product.
They also face the same issues as the rest of the fruit farming industry, namely the increase in fertiliser costs in line with oil and the expectation that a workforce of overseas pickers will stay at home this year due to the declining value of the pound.
But for a supplier such as Laird with the means to extend his season back into spring, Fife is the best place to be when the price of raspberries is high. ‘The rest of the UK isn’t even online yet,’ he says. ‘So the supermarkets are dependent on importing from as far away as South America. Until June, the price of raspberries can be double what it is in late summer.’
Scotland's Pick Your Own Fruit Farms
Allanhill Fruit Farm and shop, St Andrews, www.allanhill.co.uk
Belhaven Fruit Farm, Dunbar, www.belhavenfruitfarm.co.uk
Boghall Farm, Thornhall, near Stirling
Blacketyside Farm, near Leven
Border Berries, Kelso, www.borderberries.co.uk
Broadslap Fruit Farm, Dunning, Perthshire, www.broadslapfruitfarm.co.uk
Cairnie Fruit Farm, shop and maze, by Cupar, www.cairniefruitfarm.co.uk
Charleton Fruit Farm and coffee shop, Montrose
Craigie’s Fruit Farm and farm shop, South Queensferry, www.craigies.co.uk
Lowe’s Fruit Farm, Dalkeith
Newmill Farm, Blairgowrie, www.newmillfarm.co.uk
Pittormie Fruit Farm and Nursery, Dairsie, Fife, www.pittormiefruitfarm.co.uk
Stenton Fruit Farm, near Dunbar, East Lothian
Strawberry Grange Fruit Farm, Peterculter
Wardmill Farm, Forfar
Wester Hardmuir Fruit Farm, by Nairn, www.hardmuir.com