Thursday, July 9, 2009
The harvest depends on the amount of rain, sunshine and attendant humidity. Not all years are the same, but each summer we anticipate some kind of a crop of wild raspberries (Rubus strigosus). Wild Raspberries are native all across North America, but are also related to the Eurasian variety (Rubus idaeus). Indeed, all raspberries and blackberries are members of the rose family (Rosaceae). Technically, they are not even berries, but rather “an aggregate fruit of numerous drupelets around a central core.” There are red and black raspberries, which both have hollow centers. True blackberries have solid centers.
Experience has shown us that the period between Independence Day on the 4th of July and Bastille Day on the 14th of July is the primo season for picking these luscious little jewels. Our particular source for raspberries is the tangles of brambles that seem to grow in just about every corner of our little farm, as well as along the fence rows in our neighbor’s fields. These are definitely wild berries as we have never planted or even tended them. In a good year we can harvest a gallon or two a day; even more with a little help from our friends. Often, we have hosted a “berry pickin’ party” on July 4th. Friends and family equipped with harvest baskets fan out along the creek, fence rows and sunny banks of our property.
Fairly quickly the pickers find their rhythm and favorite techniques for the harvest. One begins to recognize the “just right” color and appearance of the perfectly ripe berry. If they are not ripe enough, they are a little harder to pluck, not to mention a tarter taste. Too ripe and they fall apart as you pick them, but when just right, they roll gently into your hand and then into your basket or mouth.
Part of the fun and pleasure is grazing on the choicest berries as you fill your basket! The only drawbacks are the sharp thorns on the canes and the fact that wild raspberries and Poison Ivy (genus Toxicodendron) seems to always grow in the same places. One always needs to beware of snakes when sticking your hand into shady thickets where the choicest berries seem to be. Not that this has ever been a problem for us. In fact, in 14 summers of picking we have never encountered even one of the slithering critters.
Naturally, this hot and steamy work requires sustenance and libations. Smoking or grilling our dinner is usually part of the fun, but the raspberries always take center stage. In previous years, we have celebrated with Raspberry Margaritas and Raspberry Daiquiris. This year however, we concocted a pitcher of Raspberry Lemonade that could be enjoyed just as it was or enhanced with a shot of Tito’s Vodka (a favorite spirit of ours that is produced in Austin, Texas.)
We also enjoy a Kir Royale or more precisely, a Kir Imperial. A Kir Royale is a glass of champagne or sparkling wine with a splash of Crème de Cassis, whereas a Kir Imperial is sparkling wine doused with a raspberry Liqueur. Whichever drink we choose, we enjoy adding a few ripe raspberries to the glass. If you need to ease your conscience a little while indulging in these delights, then you can take comfort in the fact that raspberries contain high levels of antioxidants, Vitamin C and other nutrients. (Feel better)?
Although tarts, cobblers, crème brulees and clafoutis are also terrific, my personal favorite is a simple bowl of ripe berries, a little sweetening and a splash of cream. Also, chocolate and raspberries are natural partners. I love a good chocolate torte with a rich ganache icing topped with fresh raspberries. Looks good, tastes great, but the berries will go bad or even moldy if not eaten quickly. A very simple, true gourmet extravaganza can be created by drizzling plain ripe berries with a little balsamic vinegar.
Raspberries are highly perishable and very fragile. They do freeze well however, either whole or pureed and strained. They can then be used at your convenience to prepare jams, jellies, drinks, sauces, ice cream, sorbets, granitas, desserts, etc. etc. Whether made with the fresh harvest or from frozen puree, my wife Gail’s jellies are a treat we enjoy year round and are always highly appreciated as a gift. A nice, hearty breakfast in the dead of winter is particularly comforting with hot biscuits and a generous serving of last summer’s wild raspberry jelly.
GAIL’S WILD RASPBERRY JELLY
5 cups (approximately) ripe wild raspberries (fresh or frozen)
One 1.75 ounce Package of Sure Jell Fruit Pectin
½ teaspoon unsalted butter
5 ½ cups sugar
(1) Crush and puree berries in a blender. Strain out seeds. This should result in about 4 cups of raspberry puree.
(2) In a large pan, combine Sure Jell with puree and bring to a boil.
(3) Add ½ teaspoon butter to prevent foaming
(4) Boil for a few minutes and add 5 ½ cups sugar. Return to a hard boil and turn off heat. A tablespoon or so of brandy can be added at this point if desired.
(5) Sterilize six 1 pint canning jars and fill with hot jelly. Cover tightly with lids and rings and turn upside down for a couple of hours. You should hear a “popping” sound as each jar seals.
Visit our new Avanti Savoia Recipes and Cooking section and check out these recipes using berries.
Blackberry or Raspberry Consommé
Raspberry Sauce (Coulis)
Blackberry or Raspberry Mousse
Raspberry Ice Cream
Raspberry Crème Brulee
Chocolate Raspberry Loaf Cake