Berries 101

Berry nice! Things to do with the bounty of the season.

by: Food24 | 05 Nov 2009

For years the only berry South Africans could really enjoy has been the beloved strawberry. Luckily, this is slowly changing as blackberries, blueberries, young berries, elderberries, gooseberries and raspberries become more available

Scroll down for 5 cool berry recipes!

Either fresh from local farm stalls and delis, or imported frozen or tinned from Europe - most of us aren't used to these tiny fruits from heaven, and this is reflected in our berry cooking repertoire. But this can be remedied by understanding the differences and characteristics of individual fruits.

Lets start with the king of berries. In medieval times no banquet was complete without a small dish of strawberries rolled in honey for each guest, where they were eaten a berry at a time throughout the meal to aid digestion. Strawberries make delicious ice cream, sorbets and jam, combine well with poached rhubarb or can be served, at room temperature, with cream, yoghurt, icing sugar, syrup or red wine. They're also excellent in a smoothie as a pick-me-up: blend six to 10 ripe strawberries in a glass of milk with a tablespoon of honey, a tablespoon of wheat germ, one banana and an egg yolk. Liquidise for one minute and serve immediately. Fondly called 'tiger's milk' it does the energy trick instantly.

Another great idea is to put berries under the grill to give a slightly bitter, burnt tinge, dust with icing sugar and enjoy with Greek yoghurt. When buying, look for bright, firm, ripe fruit with a fresh green calyx. If you have to wash the strawberries, do so before removing the calyx or the water will penetrate the berry.

Blackberries are juicy, fleshy fruit, rich in vitamin E. They should be firm and glossy black all over, without any signs of mould. The berries need to be used soon after purchase and make excellent jam, jellies, tarts and crumbles. Mix them with apples or pears for a pie, or turn them into sorbets and ice cream. Crushed into vodka they make a delicious liqueur, a little of which can be added to sparkling wine, or steep them in a pint of wine vinegar for use in salad dressings.

These have a grape-like texture and a sweet, slightly spicy flavour to them. The blue, frosted, bloom-like wax protects the fruit and extends shelf life in your fridge for up to a week. Check the berries before you buy: they should be firm and round, not wrinkled or cracked and there shouldn't be any juice at the bottom of the punnet. Blueberries freeze well and can be served with creme fraiche, or lightly sweetened, vanilla-flavoured whipped cream. They're a good accompaniment to goats' cheese, sweetened with maple syrup, or folded into a pancake mix where the milk has been substituted with buttermilk.

The little drops of delight are soft, crimson red, white or yellow berries with velvety, hairy droplets. Buy ones that are undamaged or overripe for immediate use. Different varieties make them available for an extended season and they freeze superbly on open trays and, once frozen, can be bagged or packed into sealed containers. Raspberries are at their best on their own, sprinkled with a little Port and icing sugar and topped with cream. They mix well with other fruits, especially melon. If you're using them for parfaits, add a little gelatine to ensure a smooth set as raspberries contain lots of water. They make superb jam and are ideal used in sweet, nutty pastry cases, served with meringues, as a sauce, a cake topping and for summer pudding. The acidity in a raspberry sauce makes a good partner to duck and lamb and raspberry vinegar can be made for use in salad dressings.

Mulberries aren't cultivated. These wonderful, purple-black berries make a wonderful sauce, ice cream or simple berries-and-cream dessert.

Youngberries are a hybrid of dewberries and loganberries but more conical in shape, like large, plump blackberries and should be glossy when ripe.

Boysenberries were developed from strawberries, raspberries and loganberries.

Cape Gooseberries are tart and slightly scented and available from early winter. The golden berries are covered in a papery husk, which can be turned back and the berry dipped in castor sugar or coated in toffee. They make excellent jam or puree for cheesecake toppings, as well as for mixing with other fruits. Dehusked and refrigerated, they'll keep a few days.

5 Things to do with berries:

1. Avocado and strawberry salad

2. Raspberry smoothie

3. Blueberry cupcakes

4. Strawberry pavlova

5. Blueberry cheesecake


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