In Season: Local raspberries worth seeking out
The locally grown red raspberries we find in the stores and farmers markets in late spring, early summer and again in fall are descendants of the wild European raspberry. Our indigenous wild red raspberries aren’t nearly so flavorful.
Most American red raspberries are grown in the Pacific Northwest and shipped in plastic clamshell packages. Because raspberries are so delicate, it behooves those interested in top quality to find a source close to home. Local berries are most likely to be grown organically as well, in rich, compost-amended soil. Proximity of the farm to market is the key to finding perfect berries.
Raspberries can develop mold within a few days of being picked during the warm summer season, and mold gives them a strong, unpleasant mustiness. Check them by looking into the receptacle — where they attach to the plant. That’s usually where mold starts first. Make sure the berries aren’t squished, with juice running out. They should be velvety-looking, plump and sound. Taste one if you can — it should be noticeably sweet and aromatic, not sour.
If you find a source of perfect berries, buy lots and freeze them in a single layer on cookie sheets. When they’re frozen, put them in freezer bags for later use.
Raspberries have an affinity for other flavors, especially chocolate. A raspberry ice cream topped with dark chocolate syrup is delicious. Chocolate and raspberry cake is classic. Chocolate is only one of the foods that pair well with red raspberries, however. Try them with almonds, cream, lemon, black or red currants, and with red wine. And raspberry vinaigrette is perfect on summer salads.
To make raspberry vinaigrette, you need raspberry vinegar. It’s easy to make. Place 6 cups of red raspberries in a large bowl. In a saucepan, bring a quart of rice vinegar and a half cup of sugar to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves, then pour it over the raspberries. When the berries cool, place the bowl in a plastic bag, twist the tie shut and place in the fridge for a month. At the end of the month, strain the contents of the bowl through cheesecloth into a pot. Bring this liquid to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for five minutes. Pour into 1-pint Mason jars, put on the lids and bands until barely tight, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Screw the lids down tight and let cool. This will keep in your pantry indefinitely and make about 2 pints.
Raspberries are nutritious in some interesting ways. Not only are they rich in vitamin C (13 milligrams per 3 ounces of fruit), but they are rich in ellagitannins, the precursors of ellagic acid. This latter is a phenolic compound that is a potent anti-carcinogenic and anti-mutagenic substance. It also has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Ellagic acid acts as a scavenger to bind cancer-causing chemicals, rendering them inactive. It inhibits the ability of other chemicals to cause mutations in bacteria. Ellagic acid in raspberries also prevents the binding of carcinogens to DNA and reduces the incidence of cancer in cultured human cells exposed to carcinogens.
The ‘Meeker’ red raspberry is the best source of ellagic acid, followed by ‘Chilliwack’ and ‘Willamette,’ so if you find red raspberries at a local farmers market, ask if they’re one of those varieties.