'Berried' Treasure: Ways of Making Most of Expensive Fruit
Berries are precious in many ways — beginning with price. Strawberries may be reasonable, in season, but other little gems can cost more per pound than scallops or prime sirloin.
This falls hard on the ears of people who grew up berry picking through the woods, or watching the strawberry patch blossom. Berry pies just haven’t been the same since granny sent the kids to the woods with a pail.
But ways and means exist for maximizing each berry, beginning with blueberry pie:
A well-fruited pie (nothing worse than a spoonful of runny purple stuff between two crusts) requires almost a quart of blueberries. Nobody will notice if one-third that amount is finely chopped apple, which softens as it absorbs the juice, color and flavor. Use a sweet apple like Fuji or Braeburn. This works with blackberries, too.
Raspberries are far too expensive for a traditional pie but display well in tiny tarts. Cut rounds of pie pastry, fit into muffin cups, prick pastry and bake until lightly browned. When tart shells cool, fill with spoonfuls of vanilla or chocolate pudding and top with one or two perfect raspberries. For extra sweetness, melt raspberry or strawberry jelly and brush over fruit.
Late-season strawberries are usually the sweetest and juiciest. Serve them slightly crushed in a demitasse cup covered with shaved chocolate (use a vegetable peeler on a bar of dark chocolate) or sprinkled with a fruit liqueur.
A few berries go a long way in baked goods. Google a recipe for lemon quick bread. Shake a handful of blueberries or blackberries with a spoonful each of flour and sugar. Pour a third of the batter into loaf pan. Arrange a few berries on batter, not touching pan sides. Repeat. Berries folded into batter break and stick to the pan, making removal difficult. Strawberries, unfortunately, have such a high water content that they melt into batter.
For stunning lemonade, place small overripe strawberries in ice cube trays, cover with water and freeze. As cubes melt berries turn the lemonade a delicate pink.
For really intense flavor, simmer commercially frozen blueberries, raspberries or strawberries with a little water until thick and saucy. Add sugar to taste. Serve this sauce over fresh berries of the same or different variety.
Make your own berry ice cream. Sweeten berries lightly, crush with a potato masher, cover and steep for several hours at room temperature. Transfer slightly softened vanilla ice cream to a large bowl and, with a rubber spatula, quickly fold in berries. Scrape back into container and return to freezer. “Double Churned” ice cream forms fewer crystals after softening.
Let the kids hunt for “berried treasure.” With a melon baller, scoop out three large hollows from a wedge of ripe cantaloupe or honeydew. Remove melon ball and slice in half. Fill hollows with several blueberries, raspberries or one tiny strawberry. Cap the hollows with cut melon balls. Children also like berry dessert sandwiches: whipped cream cheese and berries sandwiched between two thin slices of pound or angel cake.
Fresh berries transform bottled salsa. Look for peach, pineapple or raspberry chipotle salsa. Stir in crushed berries and refrigerate several hours. This is especially good with roast pork or poultry or over rice, for a vegetarian entree.
Almost-instant berry soup cools the hottest day. Puree equal amounts of plain yogurt, reduced-fat milk, a spoonful of sugar and a dash of vanilla in blender with a handful of very ripe berries. Chill and serve in a bowl with toasted sliced almonds or mint leaves floating on top.
If the soup isn’t enough air conditioning, make berry Popsicles. Crush berries and simmer in a small amount of water or orange juice until thick. Sweeten to taste, pour into Popsicle molds and freeze. Several summers ago tipsy pops were the rage for adults. After the strawberries and/or raspberries have simmered down to a sauce, stir in sugar, fresh lemon juice and cool. Add a small amount of vodka or rum (too much will hinder freezing), pour into Popsicle molds and freeze. Keep these away from the kids.
In fruit salad, color combinations count: red raspberries and kiwi slices; blueberries and watermelon balls; blackberries and fresh pineapple; strawberries and pink grapefruit; yellow raspberries and red grapes.
At least once this season, do the pick-yourself outing, come home with pails full and make pie or jam. Because nothing says summer like berries.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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