Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Berries – a Delight of Summer!

In today’s world, we can get fresh berries year-round in our supermarkets but isn’t there something special about enjoying them when they are in season – or even picked from your very own bushes? They just taste so much better. In this Cooking Tip, I would like to discuss some of these wonderful berries, including some less common ones, although the list will be far from complete.

Genus Rubus
These are berries that are composite fruits. Each single flower has from 50-150 ovaries and each ovary makes a separate small “fruitlet”. The most common of these are raspberries (black, golden, red) and blackberries although there are others, including hybrids. Some of these are dewberry, boysenberry, loganberry, marionberry, olallieberry, youngberry, cloudberry, salmonberry, tayberry and artic bramble. Because these berries have very thin skins and have one of the highest respiration rates of any fruit, they are very fragile and perishable.

Genus Vaccinium
Within this category are blueberries and cranberries. Others are huckleberry, bilberry and lingonberry.

Genus Ribes
Here we find currants (white, red, black) and gooseberries.

Genus Morus
Mulberries (black, red, white), another composite fruit, are in this category. I still remember picking and eating mulberries from a tree that grew near our home as a child. Messy but delicious.

Genus Fragaria
The ever-favorite strawberry is from this genus.

Genus Sambucus
This is where Elderberry and Barberries are found. The Elder plant is what produces elderberry. Before the berries, though, there are elderflowers. These are often preferred to the tart berry. They can be picked and made into elderflower cordial, a delightful summer beverage. The barberry is normally used as a landscaping shrub. The berries are very sour and require cooking with a sweetener to make them palatable.

Genus Melicoccus
Related to the honeysuckle, this fruit is known as honeyberry or mamoncillo.

Berries do not really ripen after picking. If you are growing your own, you can pick them at the height of ripeness. If you have a good farmer’s market, they may let you taste them before buying. If you are buying them in the store, it can be difficult to tell if they are ripe. Try to pick ones that are bright and deeply colored without soft spots. Once you get them home, look them over for any berries that are soft, mushy or going bad. Remove and discard them and keep the others covered in the refrigerator. To discourage spoilage, do not wash them until just before eating.

Apart from just eating out of hand, there are many other ways to use berries.

  • Baked items such as pies, tarts, cobblers, muffins or scones.
  • Jams & preserves – if you do not want to do all that is involved with preserving jam, try freezer jam. It tastes much fresher and more berry-like. It must, though, be kept in the freezer and not in your pantry.
  • Coulis – a wonderful fruit puree that is often made by cooking berries with sugar, water and a touch of lemon juice. Once cooked down and the taste is to your satisfaction, it can be stored as is. Or, it can be pureed and strained for a more sophisticated sauce. It can also be made without cooking by just pureeing the berries with sugar and lemon juice. This will give you a fresher taste.
  • Salads – sprinkle them fresh on your green salad with a bit of nuts and a cheese such as feta or goat and your salad is taken to a new level.
  • Salsas – fresh fruit salsas make a great accompaniment to seafood.
  • Ice cream/sherbets/sorbet – just sprinkle them on top of your bowl of ice cream or see this Cooking Tip for recommendations for adding berries to homemade ice cream.
  • Sauces – berries can be made into wonderful sauces for meat, especially pork or chicken.
  • Beverages – we all know about beverages such as raspberry lemonade but berries can be used in many other beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
  • Soups – think of how impressed your guests would be if you served them a delightful, chilled berry soup.
  • Smoothies – a classic use for fresh berries.
  • Tiramisu – in the summer, why not ditch the coffee and chocolate and make a summer berry tiramisu instead.
  • Ice cubes – adding berries to ice cubes makes for a very attractive addition to your summer drinks.
  • Freeze for a future use – prepare the fruit by removing any leaves/stems. Rinse in a colander and lay on a kitchen towel to dry. Then, lay flat on a baking sheet covered in parchment or wax paper. Freeze the berries and pour the frozen berries into a freezer container to store.

    There is a school of thought that says not to rinse blueberries before freezing. Because rinsing will remove the natural waxy coating on their skins, they can spoil faster. They recommend rinsing only when you are going to use them.

Fresh berries are just one of the great delights of summer. Don’t miss them. Most of the places around here only sell blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. That is why I am so thrilled my husband is also growing honeyberries, gooseberries, sea berries, aronia berries, elderberries and buffaloberries. If you live near me and want to try any of them, let me know!

Think out of the box when it comes to using berries. If you want recipes for anything particular that I mentioned, please let me know.