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Chokeberry and raspberry: two late-season berries

Aronia berries (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

I thought berry season was over … then on the way home from the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, I found chokeberries. Then a friend bought late-season raspberries at Rulfs Orchard.

All berries are tiny powerhouses of nutrition that have been touted as superfoods. They’re low in calories, high in fiber and high in vitamins, especially C. Dark-colored berries like elderberry and aronia (chokeberry) have one of the highest antioxidant levels of all fruits, and up to 50% more flavonoids than other berries. They also contain anthocyanins, pterostilbene, ellagic acid and polyphenols. Exactly how these substances work is still unknown, but these powerful compounds work together to fight off oxidative stress and free radicals in the body. They have been shown to regulate metabolism, boost “good” cholesterol, protect against cancer, heart disease, cognitive decline due to aging and vision loss.

Chokeberry (Aronia) has the most antioxidants, with 1,480 mg of anthocyanin concentration per 100 grams of fresh berries. According to the USDA, aronia berries have four times the antioxidant power of blueberries, goji berries, strawberries or pomegranates. The astringent qualities are due to their high concentration of polyphenols.

Raspberries are a good low-calorie source of fiber, vitamin C, B vitamins, and many minerals especially manganese and potassium. They have more antioxidants than strawberries or tomatoes. Ellagitannins, antioxidant compounds almost exclusive to the raspberry, have anti-cancer activity. The best known of these is ellagic acid, which helps neutralize free radicals, preventing damage to cell membranes.

Berry custard pie (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

Aronia or Chokeberry

Before Europeans arrived, Native Americans used and valued the chokeberry, which grows wild in damp woods and swamps. The tall bushes bear dark fruit larger than a blueberry and smaller than a cherry. Native to the eastern United States, the chokeberry is healthy, sustainable, versatile, locally grown and flavorful.

In the 1800s, cultivars were imported to Europe, where they grew in popularity and acquired the Latin name, aronia. In many countries, aronia juice is as common as apple juice is in the U.S.

Although aronia berries have a sugar content equal to table grapes, they also have an astringent quality to their flavor that many find objectionable. Winemakers have used this dry astringency, combining the chokeberry with grapes for a dry wine. In addition to wine and juice, they are made into syrups, jellies, jams, tea and tinctures. They’re good stirred into a salsa, cooked with apples into chutney, or baked with apples or other berries in a pie or cobbler. Freezing them tames the astringency a bit, and anything with protein helps to chemically subdue the tannic taste.

Aronia berry custard (Provided photos — Yvona Fast)

Raspberry

There are over 200 species of raspberries — in addition to red, they come in black, purple, yellow and even orange. Rubus occidentalis, a black raspberry, is indigenous to eastern North America. These ‘blackcaps’ are still gathered today in the Appalachians.

The common red raspberry (Rubus idaeus) is native to Asia. It was brought to England by the Romans, and later the British brought it to America, where George Washington is said to have grown these berries at his Mount Vernon estate. Today, there are many hybrid varieties, like the fall-ripening ones my friend found at Rulfs.

All raspberries grow in temperate climates where summers are not too hot and prefer well-drained, sandy loam soils with plenty of organic matter. These most delicate and extremely perishable berries grow on thorny canes, sometimes called brambles. 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. 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.

Pick gently; raspberries are fragile. They’re best eaten fresh but are also good in jam, compotes, pies, cobblers and tarts, or mousses.

When 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. Fresh berries maintain their flavor and texture for only a couple of days.

Corn, Bean, and Berry Salsa

Ingredients:

1/2 cup dry black beans

2 medium onions

1 teaspoon salt

2 lemons

2 ears fresh corn or 1 can corn kernels

1 cup fresh chokeberries

1 cup fresh raspberries

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped

1 or 2 cubanelle peppers, seeded and chopped

2 large tomatoes (2 cups, chopped)

Directions:

Soak and cook beans until tender. Drain and set aside.

Peel and chop the onion fine. Place in a small glass bowl, sprinkle with the salt and toss to mix. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over the top, stir to mix again. Set aside.

Husk the corn, and cut kernels into a bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine cooked beans, corn, berries, and onion. Wash the peppers, cut in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, rinse again, chop and add to the bowl. Wash and chop tomatoes, and stir in. Squeeze the juice from the second lemon over the salsa, and stir to combine.

Taste, and adjust seasonings. You may need a little more salt and lemon.

Chill for 1 hour. Serve with tortilla chips. Makes about 12 servings.

Autumn Fruit Custard Pie

Ingredients:

1 cup aronia berries

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 pie crust (home-made or store-bought)

1/2 cup raspberries

1 apple

1 pear

2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons sugar

Zest of 1 orange

1 cup crme fraiche

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In small saucepan, bring aronia, maple syrup and lemon juice to a boil. Simmer 15 minutes. Cool slightly.

For a pie, line a 9-inch pie plate with pie crust. Place remaining fruit on the bottom of a pie crust (or in a large, flat baking dish). Top with cooked aronia mixture.

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

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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 found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook at Words Are My World.

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