When we first looked at our old farmhouse in Maine, I was excited to find fireplaces that worked and old wooden beams. There was a thick hedge of lilacs outside the front door. But it was when I roamed around the edge of the property and discovered row upon row of raspberry and blueberry bushes that I knew I had found a home.
Every summer I anticipate the arrival of these berries with the glee of a kid in a candy shop. Early July mornings, I head outside with a coffee cup in one hand and an empty yogurt container in the other. Raspberries require patience as they hide and can grow at eye level (easy) or ankle level (hard) at the bottom of the canes. Picking berries requires you to slow down just enough to see. Oh look, there’s a cluster of ripe ones. And over there. And as I sip my coffee, and search for perfectly red ripe berries, I find myself listening to the birds and feeling the sun pick up strength. It’s a morning berry meditation.
Once the yogurt container is full (five berries for the bucket and one for me), it’s time to head indoors and sprinkle them over yogurt and granola and think about the season’s first berry tart or muffins or cake. Even a salad. The possibilities of what you can do with summer’s tart, sweet, bursting-with-juice berries is endless.
Look for just-picked, very local berries at a nearby pick-your-own farm or farmer’s market. If you shop for berries at the supermarket check the bottom of the pint to see if they are fresh — make sure they are still holding their shape and not moldy or clumped together and rotting. Remember that berries are quite perishable. Raspberries, golden raspberries, blackberries and huckleberries will barely last three days. Strawberries and blueberries are heartier and will last several days. But, in general, berries aren’t meant to sit around. Your best bet is to use them ASAP. Do not wash the berries until just before you’re ready to use them. Moisture is the enemy here and will cause the berries to break down even further.
Yes, you can freeze fresh summer berries. The best method is to place a baking or cookie sheet in the freezer and place the berries on it in a single layer. Freeze for about an hour, or until they are frozen enough to keep their shape and not clump together. When that happens you can place them in an airtight container or freezer bag for several months.
Roasted beet, raspberry and feta salad
I’m not a big fan of berries in savory food. I don’t love berry soup or berry-flavored salad dressings. I don’t really want a strawberry near my roast chicken. But I woke up early one morning this month and thought about how beautiful it might be to pair sweet, earthy roasted beets with fresh raspberries.
I’m also not a fan of precious food. This salad might appear to be a precious, “chefy-type” dish. And although it’s stunning, it’s really about the balance of color, flavor, texture and shape. Golden yellow beets (or red beets) are roasted until tender and sweet, thinly sliced, topped with crumbled salty feta cheese and then topped with raspberries (or blackberries), fresh herbs and edible flowers. All you need to pair with it is a warm, crusty loaf of bread or buttery biscuits or whole grain crackers. This salad makes a light summer lunch or first course.
Serves 2 to 4.
- 1 pound golden or red beets, or a combination (about 2 large or 4 medium-small beets)
- 3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled, about ½ cup
- 1 cup fresh raspberries, blackberries or your favorite berry
- 2 tablespoons minced chives
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ½ tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic or white wine vinegar
- Edible flowers like nasturtium or calendula
- Roast the beets: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Wrap the beets into two aluminum foil packets tightly and roast on the middle shelf for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the beets yields a soft (not mushy) texture.
- Remove the packets and let cool slightly.
- Using your hands or a small, sharp knife remove the beet skins. (Beets can stain! If you have rubber gloves or disposable gloves they are great to use, or you can use a paper towel to pull the skin off the beet. If you wash your hands ASAP with soap in warm water, the beet color will wash away.)
- Thinly slice the beets and place on a serving plate.
- Sprinkle the feta on top and then gently scatter on the raspberries.
- Sprinkle with the chives and any edible flowers.
- Just before serving, spoon the oil on top of the salad, followed by the vinegar.
Blueberry-lemon tea cake
Made in a bread loaf pan, this simple cake bursts with the fresh flavors of summer. A cake batter is flavored with lemon zest and lemon juice and mixed with fresh blueberries (yes, you can substitute any berry here) and when the cake is baked and cooled, a simple glaze of lemon juice and confectioners sugar is poured over the top. When it’s done, you grate lemon zest on top and surround the cake with even more fresh summer berries. Ideal for breakfast, snack, or dessert, serve the cake with iced or hot tea, coffee or wine.
Serves 6 to 8.
- Butter and flour for greasing the pan
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest, from 1 large or 2 small lemons
- 2 cups flour, plus 1 tablespoon for dusting the berries
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ⅛ teaspoon fine salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup milk
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice from the zested lemons
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups blueberries (1 pint)
The glaze and garnishes
- 1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 1 ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest, from 1 large lemon
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice from the zested lemon
- Pinch fine salt
- About 1 to 1 ½ cup blueberries
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with the butter and lightly coat with flour; tip the cake pan over the sink and tap to make sure the flour doesn’t clump up. Set aside.
- Make the cake: Add the sugar to a small bowl. Using your fingers, rub the lemon zest into the sugar. Set aside.
- In a bowl mix together the 2 cups of flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
- In a stand mixer or beater whisk the butter until light. Add the lemon sugar and beat over medium for 3 minutes, until light. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well until fully incorporated. Add half the flour mixture and beat for a minute. Add the cream, milk, lemon juice, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until smooth. Remove from the machine.
- Toss the remaining 1 tablespoon of flour with the berries (this will help them from sinking to the bottom of the cake) and then gently stir the flour-coated berries into the cake batter.
- Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a soft spatula.
- Bake on the middle shelf for about 1 hour 10 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake. Remove and let cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Using a flat kitchen knife, work your way around the loaf pan loosening the cake. Unmold the cake onto a wire cooling rack and then carefully flip it over, domed side up. Let cool for one hour.
- Meanwhile, prepare the glaze: Whisk together the sugar, milk, lemon juice and salt in a small bowl until smooth.
- Place a plate under the cooled cake while it’s still on the cooling rack. Pour the glaze on top of the cake, letting it drip over onto the sides. Place on a serving plate and scatter the lemon zest on top of the glaze. Surround the cake with the berries.
Raspberry tart with vanilla pastry cream
This is the summer dessert you want for a special dinner or get-together. You need to make the pastry and the pastry cream a day ahead of time, so plan your time accordingly. But once you bake off the crust, it’s a matter of spooning raspberry jam on the bottom, then the pastry cream and topping it with a gorgeous crown of fresh summer berries. Although there are a few steps involved, this tart is quite straightforward.
Serves 4 to 6.
The pastry cream
- 2 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch salt
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 2 eggs
- 4 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
- 1 ½ cups flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Pinch salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
- About ⅓ cup ice cold water
- 3 tablespoons raspberry or berry jam, at room temperature
- About 2 ½ cups raspberries or a combination of your favorite berries
- Make the pastry cream: In a medium saucepan heat the milk, vanilla, and salt and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer.
- In a medium bowl whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and eggs until smooth. Ladle 1/2 cup of the simmering milk into the sugar and egg mixture. Then slowly whisk the sugar/egg mixture into the pot with the simmering milk.
- Cook over medium-low heat, whisking, until thickened, about 3 minutes. When the pastry cream is thick, remove from the heat and add the butter, whisking until smooth.
- Place a sheet of plastic or plastic alternative wrap directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to keep it from forming a crust. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
- Make the pastry: In a food processor whirl the flour, sugar and salt together. Add the butter and pulse about 15 times, or until the butter looks like peas. Add the water, a tablespoon or two at a time, until the dough begins to come together and pull away from the sides of the processor bowl. Alternatively, you can mix flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add butter and work with your hands or a pastry cutter until the butter is the size of peas. Add enough water so the dough comes together. Place the dough in a piece of parchment paper and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Lightly butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
- Working on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough and fit into the tart pan, trimming the sides. Chill for at least 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a sheet of parchment paper inside the tart pan and fill with beans or rice or pie weights. Bake on the middle shelf for 30 minutes. Carefully remove the parchment and pie weights and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Remove and cool.
- Using a soft spatula, spread the bottom of the crust with the jam. Spoon the pastry cream on top (there may be some leftover; it’s delicious served with berries). Arrange the berries on top and chill for about an hour or two before serving.
Simple raspberry jam with lemon (and no pectin)
All you need to make this jam is a few cups of ripe berries, some sugar and lemon juice. No pectin is needed. The lemon juice adds flavor but it also helps the jam “set” or “gel” into a thick jam-like consistency. I don’t add a ton of sugar which yields a slightly sweet, tart and very fruity jam.
Makes 3-pint size jars or 6 half-pint jars.
- 6 cups raspberries, blackberries or your favorite berry
- About 2 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Place a small plate in the freezer.
- Place the berries and sugar in a medium-large stainless steel saucepan. Using a potato masher, mash the berries and sugar together and then add the lemon juice. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, mashing a few more times until the mixture is well blended. Once the mixture comes to a boil, cook for about 20 minutes, skimming off foam as it forms on top. The jam should look syrupy and thickened, with no watery consistency.
- To test, add a small spoonful to the plate in the freezer. You should be able to run your finger through the jam streak and have the impression your finger made be visible, rather than running together again. If the mixture is too thin it will not hold the streak you made; continue to cook another 4 to 5 minutes until thickened.
- Let the jam cool and place into 3 clean, sterilized pint size jars or 6 half pint size jars. The jam will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 weeks or can be canned and kept in a cool, dark spot for up to a year.
- To preserve the jam: Sterilize the jelly jars and lids. Dry on a clean tea towel. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and, once boiling, using tongs, add the jars carefully to the boiling water. Cover and let process for 12 minutes. Remove carefully with tongs and let cool on a tea towel.
More berry and canning resources