by Sidney Carlisle
There's something special about a basket of fresh berries, whether they are black, blue or red. A farmer's market or roadside stand selling berries with that just-picked look and smell is my favorite place to shop, but most upscale grocery stores now have several varieties nearly all year.
The most popular berries in this country are strawberries. Sweet and tasty, the berries are high in fiber, low in calories, and contain Vitamin C. They may be rinsed and served just as they came off the plant, or they may be part of a more elaborate dessert. Culinary experts advise that smaller strawberries have the most flavor. Choose berries that still have their green tops and show no sign of mold. Don't hull or wash them until just before serving.
Raspberries are also a favorite, although they are more expensive. Since they aren't picked until they ripen, they mold and mildew quickly, a costly problem that shippers pass along to the consumer. Be aware that raspberries should be hollow. If the stem and core remain with the berries, they were picked before they were ripe and will have little or no taste.
Most of us know raspberries are red, but other varieties are available depending on where you live. Black raspberries, also called thimbleberries, can be found on the east coast, and golden and purple varieties are also harvested in some areas of the country.
Blueberries are high in fiber and Vitamin C. Nutritionists believe the pigment that makes the berries blue contains antioxidants that help fight cancer. They may be one of the most versatile berries since they are good alone, with milk, in jams and jellies, and in baked goods like muffins and pies. Both wild and cultivated blueberries turn up in markets, but unless the basket is marked "wild", the berries are not. Wild huckleberries, distant relatives of blueberries, do not cultivate well and are seldom available except at roadside stands.
Growers continue to develop hybrids, searching for fat, juicy berries, that look pretty, taste good, resist mold and ship well. Although many of us prefer home-grown fruit, commercial production gives us access to berries that might have been unavailable in the past. And it means that if we want shortcake in December, we can probably find enough strawberries to satisfy our craving.
The ultimate berry accomplishment will be for the grower who manages to ship olallieberries to Texas. Grown in California, they make great pies and cobblers, but are difficult to locate outside their home area.
Even without olallieberries, the recipes that follow are sure to appeal to berry fans. The blackberry cobbler may be made with purchased pie crust or homemade pastry. Try the blueberry syrup on waffles or pancakes, and do try the strawberry sauce.
Quick Blackberry Cobbler
Unfold the pie crust and cut it in half. Cut one half into strips to fit lengthwise in the baking dish. Refrigerate the other half until needed.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Pour half the fruit mixture in the baking dish. Place the pastry strips on top of the fruit. Brush with about 1 tablespoon melted butter and sprinkle with half the remaining sugar. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is lightly browned.
Remove the baking dish from the oven. Spoon the rest of the fruit mixture over the baked pastry. Cut the remaining half of the dough into strips to fit crosswise in the pan, laying them over the fruit in the opposite direction of the first pastry layer. Brush with the remaining butter and sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Bake about 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.
Serve warm, if possible. Yields about 6 servings.
Homemade Blueberry Syrup
Strawberry Shortcake Sauce
Sidney Carlisle lives on a ranch in Meridian, Texas.
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