In summer, it’s all about the berries.
Black, blue or red, these little gems are powerhouses of flavor and nutrition in compact (and portable) packages. They’re abundantly available at farmers markets and in an ever-growing assortment of varieties.
And with increased interest in healthy eating, berries have never been more popular. Part of that boost in popularity comes from berries’ healthy image as a “super food.” A recent international conference hosted by the North Carolina Research Center, which has been conducting extensive studies of berries’ benefits, provided more evidence of their positive impact. Phytochemical content in berries can improve cognition, strengthen the immune system and control inflammation as well as boost athletic performance and exercise recovery.
Plus they taste good.
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The trick is matching the right berry with the right dish, melding bright and assertive berry flavors — from a single variety or in combination — with other ingredients. It helps to know your berries before you start mixing them.
▪ Strawberries rank as the most popular and easily recognized berry. Compared to other berries, strawberries have a relatively high water content, which makes them lower in calories (great news for snackers) but also mushy when cooked. Their red color may leak in baked goods, turning dough or batter pink.
▪ Blueberries are enjoying a global boom, according to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, which pegs worldwide production of this native American fruit at 1.45 billion pounds by 2017. As their name implies, highbush varieties tend to be taller — up to 13 feet — and are favored for commercial production. Lowbush varieties, which grow wild in Northeastern states, hug the ground.
Blueberries need extended periods of cold nights below 45 degrees to develop good fruit. Recent hybrids have allowed blueberry production to expand into warmer climes.
Blueberries hold their shape when cooked or frozen but may bleed blue into the final product.
▪ Blueberries are closely related to two other all-American berries: huckleberries and cranberries.
Huckleberries usually look like small, dark purple-to-almost-black blueberries. A favorite of Native Americans, huckleberries contain at least 15 antioxidants.
While some varieties are sweet, others have a puckery tartness that can be overwhelming when eaten fresh. Huckleberries are best cooked (with sugar) in baked goods or jams and jellies. Although they look darker than blueberries, they tend to turn baked goods green, not blue.
Cranberries, best known for their relish role next to Thanksgiving turkey, are native to Northeastern states, where they have been cultivated since 1816. Some cranberry vines are more than 150 years old. As early as 1620, the Pilgrims and their Native American hosts ate wild cranberries.
▪ Cane berries are in a class by themselves. Traditionally, this group includes blackberries and raspberries as well as crosses such as boysenberries and olallieberries. Each berry is considered an “aggregate fruit,” clusters of little juice-filled sacs called “drupelets” that are individual fruits with single seeds inside. The drupelets are held together by microscopic hairs.
Blackberries have a central core to hold the berry’s shape while ripening. Raspberries —which may be red, purple, black or gold — are hollow and form a thimble shape. That also makes raspberries particularly fragile.
Most of the blackberry brambles that grow wild are actually Himalayan blackberries, a misnamed invasive species native to Armenia and introduced to the U.S. West Coast circa 1885. Originally marketed to farmers as “Himalayan Giant,” these blackberries are bigger than their cousins and the vines more vigorous. But with the help of birds, this species escaped cultivation into the wild, where it often squeezes out native blackberries.
Olallieberries, originally grown by Oregon State University, is a hybrid blackberry developed by crossing loganberry and youngberry (another red raspberry-blackberry cross). Its catchy name is actually repetitive; “olallie” means “berry” in Chinook. But this luscious fruit is “berry berry” good.
Also developed by Oregon State, marionberries are a cross of olallieberries and another variety of blackberry. Named for Marion County in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, marionberries have been nicknamed the “Cabernet of blackberries” because of their intense flavor. They’re now the most common blackberry in commercial production.
Regardless of their names or parentage, all these blackberry variations are virtually interchangeable in recipes, but their seasons are short and sweet. Look for them at farmers markets through August.
Mixed Berry Shortcakes
Yield: Serves 8
This recipe is a mixed-berry version of a summer favorite: strawberry shortcake. Simple tweaks make it better for you and add delightful taste dimension. The tender-inside, crisp-outside biscuits are made with a blend of whole grain and all-purpose flours, and with oil instead of butter. Topping the berries is a blend of lightly sweetened, vanilla-scented whipped cream and Greek yogurt; the latter adds a pleasant hint of tartness.
Make ahead: The honeyed berries need to rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
From nutritionist and cookbook author Ellie Krieger.
For berries and topping:
1 pound mixed berries, such as blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and/or strawberries
1 tablespoon honey
1/3 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the biscuits:
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour or regular whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup well-shaken low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup canola or other neutral-tasting oil
For the berries and topping: Wash the berries and hull any strawberries. Halve or quarter any large berries, then place the berries in a large bowl. Drizzle with the honey, then toss to combine. Cover and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve, for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
Pour the cream into the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium-high speed until thickened, then add the confectioners’ sugar; continue beating until soft peaks form. Gently fold in the yogurt and vanilla extract. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use (up to 1 day in advance).
For the biscuits: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Let the berries come to room temperature. Whisk together the flours, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together the buttermilk and oil in a separate medium bowl. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just until moistened; do not overmix.
Drop the batter in 8 mounds (about 3 tablespoons each) onto the baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let the biscuits cool slightly. To serve, use a serrated knife to gently cut the biscuits in half horizontally. Place each bottom half on a plate, top each with about 1/3 cup of the berries and their accumulated juices, and a dollop of whipped topping. Cap with the top halves of the biscuits and serve.
Lavender Pom-Berry Sorbet
Lavender has a great affinity for blackberries, blueberries, pomegranate and honey. The honey not only rounds out the flavor but helps keep the sorbet texture smooth.
Make ahead: The berry -juice mixture needs to infuse for at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours. The sorbet needs to firm up in the freezer for at least 1 hour before serving, and it can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
From cookbook author Nancy Baggett.
2 cups fresh or frozen/defrosted blackberries, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 cups pure bottled pomegranate -blueberry juice, plus more as needed
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup clover honey, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh culinary lavender spikes (bloom heads) or 1 tablespoon dried culinary lavender buds
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
Thoroughly stir together the blackberries, water, pomegranate -blueberry juice, sugar and honey in a medium nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium -high heat, stirring. Adjust the heat so the mixture boils gently, and cook until the berries are soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the lavender and lime juice, then remove from the heat.
Taste, and thoroughly stir in a little more honey, as needed. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour (fresh lavender will infuse much more quickly than dried buds). Taste; if the lavender flavor is pronounced enough, strain the mixture through a sieve into a 4 -cup measure. Press down with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. For more intense lavender flavor, refrigerate, tasting occasionally, for up to 3 hours before straining. Stir enough additional pomegranate -blueberry juice into the measure to yield a generous 33/4 cups.
Refrigerate, covered, until well chilled. Pre -chill a storage container to hold the finished sorbet. Process the mixture in an ice cream maker following the manufacturer's directions. Immediately put the sorbet in the chilled freezer container and freeze until firm, at least 1 hour, before serving. Freeze for up to 2 weeks.
Per 1/2 -cup serving: 140 calories, 0 g protein, 37 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 34 g sugar
Berry Wine Syrup
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Yield: about 2/3 cup
Seedless berry jam adds the berry flavor to red wine. Try this on crepes filled with lightly sweetened whipped ricotta. Make a double recipe; the syrup keeps 2 weeks or more.
1 cup fruity red wine, such as pinot noir
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup best quality seedless berry jam or jelly (I like elderberry jelly here)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch cinnamon, optional
Put wine, sugar and jam into a small saucepan. Heat to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, until mixture has reduced enough to make a thin syrup, about 20 minutes. Cool.
Stir in lemon juice and cinnamon. Refrigerate up to 2 weeks. Serve at room temperature.
Wheat Berry Berry Salad With Goat Cheese And Toasted Walnuts
Prep time: 35 minutes
Cook time: 1 1/4 hours
Serves 6 as a main course, 8 to 10 as side dish
The vinaigrette here also is delicious on fresh spinach salad with thinly sliced red onion, toasted nuts and grilled chicken. It keeps in the refrigerator for several days; the strawberry slices will soften considerably.
For a gluten -free salad, use sorghum. For faster salad options, substitute pearled farro or quinoa and cook according to package directions in about 15 minutes. Cracked wheat (bulgur) soaks to tenderness (no need to cook) in about 30 minutes. Leftover salad will keep refrigerated for several days; add the toasted nuts just before serving. Serve at room temperature.
For berry puree:
3 cups (about 12 ounces) assorted clean fresh berries
For pink berry vinaigrette:
1/3 cup fruity olive oil
2 1 / 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh berry puree, above
1 / 2 teaspoon salt
1 / 4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups thinly sliced hulled small strawberries
2 cups wheat berries
6 cups vegetable broth or water
1 cup walnut pieces
Pink berry vinaigrette (above), to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups thinly sliced hulled small strawberries
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives or thinly sliced green onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
Butter lettuce or small romaine lettuce leaves
6 ounces crumbled goat cheese (or feta or queso fresco)
Berry wine syrup (see recipe at right, or use balsamic glaze)
Chive blossoms or mint sprigs
Make puree: In a blender, puree the berries smooth. Push puree through a fine mesh strainer into a freezer container. Makes about 1 1/2 cups puree. Sweeten with agave syrup, if you like.
Make vinaigrette: Put oil, lime juice, vinegar and mustard into a jar with a tight -fitting lid. Shake well. Add the berry puree (or agave), salt and pepper. Shake well. Add the strawberries. Let macerate 15 minutes or so before using.
Make salad: Put wheat berries, broth and 1/4 teaspoon salt into a heavy saucepan. Heat to a boil. Reduce heat to low; cover the pan tightly. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until wheat berries are pleasantly chewy, 60 to 70 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool.
Meanwhile, put walnuts into a small dry skillet set over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until nuts are aromatic and a bit toasted, 1 to 2 minutes. Cool, then chop roughly.
Strain the wheat berries in a wire -mesh strainer or a colander. Put wheat berries in a large bowl. Add the vinaigrette to taste. Toss to mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Gently fold in strawberries, chives and mint.
To serve, line salad plates with the lettuce leaves. Spoon wheat berry mixture onto the lettuce. Top with the cheese and walnuts. Drizzle with syrup, if using. Garnish with chive blossoms or mint.