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Summer of 2020 gets the raspberries

Raspberries in the wild. (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

It’s August. And it’s been the strangest summer I’ve ever lived through. We’re in the midst of a pandemic. Yes, things are slowly re-opening, but many activities are still canceled. For the rest, there is social distancing and mask-wearing, The farmers’ market is going strong, but new rules mean waiting in long lines.

Then came protests for social justice and against police brutality. And then came summer — in many places, the hottest one on record.

The news is all about the virus and social justice. We have forgotten that we live on a fragile planet. We have forgotten that temps are rising, the climate is changing and predictions for hurricanes are worse than ever. The recent one knocked out power in much of the east coast. Our region had 18 days with temperatures over 90 degrees — the average is 6.

This summer was hot. July was dry. There were very few blueberries. Our currants didn’t do well either. But raspberries seem to be faring a little better. Every time I walk past the bushes, I am able to put several in my mouth. We pick a few every other day to enjoy as is, stir into a salad, put on cereal or yogurt or bake into goodies.

Raspberries are a good low-calorie source of fiber, vitamin C, B vitamins, and many minerals especially manganese and potassium. They have lots of antioxidants — more than strawberries or tomatoes, according to Dutch research published in the journal BioFactors. Ellagitannins are antioxidant compounds almost exclusive to the raspberry, which are reported to have anti-cancer activity. The best known of these is ellagic acid, which helps neutralize free radicals, thus preventing damage to cell membranes. Other beneficial flavonoids in raspberries include quercetin and kaempferol. These anthocyanins give raspberries their bright red hue.

Raspberries’ antimicrobial properties are said to prevent overgrowth of bacteria and fungi (such as the yeast candida which causes vaginal infections). And medical studies (published in the Archives of Ophthalmology, June 2004) have shown that fruit like raspberries can help stave off macular degeneration.

There are over 200 species of raspberries; in addition to red they come in black, purple, yellow, even orange. These most delicate and extremely perishable of berries grow on thorny canes, so are sometimes called brambles. They are also known as aggregate fruits because they’re made up of many tiny seed-containing fruits (called drupelets) arranged around a hollow core. Fresh berries maintain their flavor and texture for only a couple days, so unless you plan to freeze them, only pick as much as you can use.

While people have been eating wild berries since prehistoric times, they have only been cultivated in the last few hundred years. The common red raspberry (Rubus idaeus) is indigenous to Asia Minor. The earliest records of cultivation are from the writings of Palladius, a Roman agriculturist in the 4th century AD. Archaeologists have discovered ancient raspberry seeds at Roman forts in Britain. It is thought that the Romans spread raspberries throughout Europe.

However, it was the English who cultivated these berries through the Middle Ages, improving and hybridizing them. A 1548 English herbal medicine book mentions raspberries. Colonists brought these English red raspberries with them to America, where they spread into the wild. George Washington cultivated raspberries at his Mount Vernon estate.

Eastern North America already had an indigenous raspberry, Rubus occidentalis, which was black rather than red. These “blackcaps” are still widely gathered in the Appalachians. Luther Burbank (1849-1926), an American horticulturist and botanist, described brambles (raspberries and blackberries) as some of the most complex genetic fruits. He created many hybrids and crosses between the blackberry and raspberry. Today, the best known hybrids are the Boysenberry (a large maroon berry developed in the 1930s) and Loganberry (a tart red berry developed by Judge John H. Logan of Santa Cruz, California in 1880 — a cross between the Antwerp red raspberry and the wild blackberry). Most commercial berries come from the west coast states of Washington, Oregon and northern California. Washington alone produces about 70,000,000 pounds of berries per year (more than half of the U.S. commercial raspberry crop).

Raspberries grow in temperate climates where the summers are not too hot, and prefer well-drained, sandy loam soils with plenty of organic material. The plant is a perennial, but the canes are biennial; they should be cut back to ground level once they have fruited, and new canes will replace them.

Pick gently; raspberries are fragile. They’re best eaten fresh just as they are, or with whipped cream. They’re also good in jam, compotes, pies, cobblers and tarts, or mousses.

If buying raspberries, make sure there is no trace of mildew, and look for dry berries that are not too soft. Store in the refrigerator, but keep no longer than a day or two.

My favorite way to eat raspberries is fresh just as they come off the bush, or in a bowl with yogurt or ice cream. If you have more than you can eat, here are a couple recipes.

Raspberry Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette

For the dressing

Ingredients:

1 cup raspberries

1/4 cup Raspberry vinegar or Balsamic vinegar

1 small clove garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup Olive oil

Directions:

Mash berries and stir in vinegar. Mash garlic with salt, and add oil. Combine vinegar mixture with oil mixture, and allow to sit for 30 minutes to blend flavors. Shake vigorously before using.

For the salad

Ingredients:

Bunch arugula (about 5 oz.)

Bunch leaf lettuce or other greens (about 5 oz.)

1/2 sweet onion, sliced

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 cup fresh raspberries

2/3 cup raspberry vinaigrette

In salad bowl, combine greens with onion; pour dressing over and toss. Add feta and berries and toss again.

Serves 2.

Option: for a main dish, add 1/3 cup shredded cooked chicken to each serving.

Raspberry

Custard

Ingredients:

2 cups raspberries

2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks

2 Tablespoons sugar

Zest of 1 orange

1 cup creme fraiche

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325°F. Place the berries on the bottom of large, flat baking dish.

In a bowl, beat egg yolks and eggs with sugar. Beat in orange zest and crème fraiche. Pour over the fruit. Place in oven and bake about 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Note: You can try this with other berries too, or a mixture of different berries.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on facebook at words are my world.

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