Escoffier was the chap who came up with the sublime combo of ice cream, raspberries and fresh peaches – and if you have never tried it, make it happen ASAP because it is blindingly good.
He was creating a tribute for the Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba. The diva had a penchant for ice cream but feared it would interfere with her singing (fat coats the throat and can be mucous-forming). Escoffier cut the creamy effect by adding a good dollop of tangy raspberries and introduced peaches. And that’s how the classic dish of Peche Melba was born. It’s delicious.
In the perfect world we would buy just-picked raspberries, and consume them while they’re fresh and fragrant. Unlike blackberries, which retain their central white core when they are picked, raspberries are hollow and can easily be squashed. Once picked they have a short shelf-life, around 4-6 days. Make sure any you buy have not started to bleed (check the underneath of the punnet/container) and check for signs of mold. To keep berries in pristine condition, store them in shallow plastic containers lined with paper towels, cover with more paper towels and keep in the refrigerator away from icy areas. Raspberries are infinitely more flavoursome at room temperature, so bring them out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.
Washing makes them go soft and dilutes their flavour. If they are stored after washing they will quickly rot. If you must wash them, do so just before using, with the minimal amount of water, then drain briefly before patting dry with paper towels. Never soak raspberries or they’ll turn into waterlogged blobs.
Another way to keep them is to transfer them to a container, sprinkle with icing sugar and gently stir (just once!). The sugar will preserve the raspberries for 3-4 days. Likewise, sweetened raspberry puree or sauce will also keep refrigerated for 3-4 days.
Raspberries are generally red in colour, although there are pale pinky-red, deep-red and black fruits, and gold coloured raspberries, and near-white ones, too. They contain more fibre than most other fruits and 1 cup of raspberries will provide half your daily vitamin C requirement. And then there’s folic acid, manganese, copper and iron. In all, raspberries are an excellent source of antioxidants, especially red and black raspberries because they are full of anthocyanins – a pigment found in plants.
Lucky you if you have the chance to go berry picking! Choose a dry, fine and still day (you don’t want wind and dust and you don’t want rain or humidity). It’s generally best to pick berries in the morning before the heat of the day is upon them. Look for plump evenly coloured berries avoiding dusty-looking berries or very soft ones. They should be perfectly ripe because they will not ripen once picked. The berries should come away from the plant easily and cleanly. If buying in bulk to freeze, aim to pick and freeze them on the same day. Do not wash raspberries before freezing. Lay them out in a single layer on a shallow tray and freeze. Once frozen, transfer to sealable freezer bags and store frozen for 6-9 months.
Raspberry leaves picked from red raspberry plants are also rich in vitamins, minerals and tannins and have many uses in the alternative medical profession. They are made into teas and tisanes (herbal teas) but generally need sweetening to counter their astringency. If picking wild fruits and leaves ensure the plant has not recently been sprayed.
Here are a few extra things I’ve learned along the way:
- Raspberries can give strawberries a bit of oomph in dishes such as fruit fools and Eton mess. They had a splash of colour, too.
- Try fresh raspberries alongside fresh ricotta beaten with a little sugar and cream.
- Make quick desserts layering raspberries in tall glasses with cubes of fresh sponge or crumbled sponge (lady) fingers, crème anglaise and lightly whipped cream.
- Add fresh raspberries to muffin batter but add them at the end, and just stir them through, or you’ll end up with pink muffins!
Recipes using raspberries
Photography by Aaron McLean http://www.aaronmclean.com