Raspberry Road Trip: A Visit to Salman Ranch

Santafe.com | SantaFe.com - October 17, 2011

"...a trip to raspberry heaven..."

Though quite late in the fruit-picking season, I managed a trip to the Salman Raspberry Ranch in La Cueva yesterday. The trip is quite easy – up I-25, stop in Las Vegas for lunch or to antique shop, and then a short, 29- mile drive through the countryside to La Cueva. The ranch is actually several entities in one: an old mill, a shop/store with lots of goodies, a garden behind an ancient wall (our own New Mexico Secret Garden), a café, a nursery and, of course, the raspberry fields, ripe for picking.


The entire enterprise is owned and run by the Salman family, heroes to me and anyone who tries to garden in the southwest. The family operates this wonderful piece of Heaven near Mora and Santa Fe Greenhouses, here in town. I had the opportunity to talk to both David Salman and Francis Koenig Salman before my trip and also visited with Lawrence Espinoza at the raspberry fields yesterday afternoon. I don’t have to tell you what a beautiful fall day we had yesterday, with warm sunshine and amazing fall colors. Even at this stage of fall, everything at the Salman Ranch has taken on a burst of color and fragrance almost unimaginable during our hot, dusty summer just passed.


We arrived at the fields by 2:30 p.m. and were greeted by Lawrence, who gave us the drill. Each of us was given a small bucket that could hold two pounds of raspberries. These would be weighed and the charge would be $5 per pound. He also suggested the best picking areas, as he had observed people for weeks picking over the same spots. He suggested the center of the field or way out at the edge. I had seen the article in the New Mexican on Saturday about the bear cub picking its fair share of berries at the ranch, and I imagined myself working one end of the row as the bear worked the other – no such treat. The bear cub was probably hung over on the sugar high from its last foraging there. So, off we went. An hour later both Miss Thea and I had filled our buckets to the very top, sure to extract every last drop of fructose from the Salman’s soil.

Between David Salman and Lawrence, I had gleaned the following Raspberry Ranch factoids: somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 people gather raspberries at the ranch each year, from Labor Day to the first hard frost of autumn, after which the bushes are cut back. The Ranch was first purchased by Colonel Salman after Word War II – the great house, built in 1835, the mill and buildings used as the store and café and the fields, which now are planted with alfalfa as well as raspberries and that the producing bushes in the five-acre raspberry field started by David and his uncle in 1985 are between 3- and 27-years-old. All of this is food for thought, or is it thought for food. Anyway, I love these stories from northern New Mexico’s past.


These traditions, as well as the current activities at the Santa Fe Greenhouses are among the reasons I am such a fan of the Salman family and their place in New Mexico’s agricultural legacy.


As an aside, I suggest that, just when winter has increased your sadness factor for the state of your yard, garden or even your favorite pot, treat yourself to a lecture/workshop at the greenhouses and see how much it brightens your outlook. As for me, I will embark on some of the recipes I took away from the Raspberry Ranch yesterday and hope that they will carry me through the winter. I will be sharing these with Lynn Cline, SantaFe.com’s “Gourmet Girl” and she will probably pass them on to you.

Also on your itinerary for any trip to La Cueva should be a stop at San Rafael Church just north of the ranch. One of the oldest adobe churches in northern New Mexico, it is unique in its use of Gothic windows throughout. It is a favorite subject of my wife Thea Witt’s photography (image above) and years ago, I helped mud the structure as a part of a team from Cornerstones Community Partnerships. On one work day, aided by my “Little” in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters Program, we managed to get more mud on us than on the church’s walls, but the food served by the community was excellent, nonetheless.