The winter way to enjoy raspberries

When fresh raspberries are out of season, there's still an easy way to satisfy a craving for the flavorful fruit.

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    Zing: Tasty raspberries ripen on one of many bushes growing in a greenhouse in Adna, Wash.
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On summer mornings, I used to eat my cereal outside. Holding my bowl in both hands, head tilted to one side, I walked carefully down the steps of our deck and out into the dewy Northwest morning to gather a few raspberries from the bushes in our backyard.

I tossed them on my cereal, and then sat down to slurp my breakfast with its now-pink milk.

Raspberries dramatically improved the kinds of box cereals my mom allowed us to have – dreary, sensible flakes that could use some flavor and color.

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Raspberries taste the way magenta looks: tart, zingy, and bright. We ate them all summer long.

When raspberries were in season, our family would gather flats of them in pick-your-own berry fields. To preserve them for winter, my parents made raspberry jam. It was good, but nothing like a tangy, juicy, ripe berry.

My mother used to make a pie that used fresh raspberries. It consisted of a cooked pie shell, a thin layer of cream cheese, fresh berries, and a layer of raspberry glaze. This glaze tasted a lot like the jam that my parents used to make, but it wasn't as sweet.

We ate raspberry pie every day for dessert at the height of the season, until summer ended. Raspberries were too delicate to preserve, except as jam.

Then we bought a big freezer. This appliance stood in our basement, where it held lots of things. But the ones that interested me were the 10 raspberry pies my parents started making every summer to tide us over from September to June.

Every month, we solemnly defrosted a pie at room temperature, cut it into five pieces, and ate it for dessert. You didn't want to miss this meal, because no one in the family could be trusted to save your piece of pie for you.

Even today, I have proven unreliable at eating just one slice of raspberry pie. Or, you could say, I have proven very reliable at eating a whole raspberry pie by myself, if there's one in the house.

To meet my raspberry needs in a more dignified way, I considered buying fresh raspberries out of season, despite the price. But it seemed wrong – there should not be fresh berries in my bowl when cold winter rains are pouring down.

I tried buying bags of frozen raspberries and eating them plain. But that still wasn't right. Plain defrosted berries have a watery taste that makes me long for the fresh ones even more.

I even tried raspberry jam. Maybe I could develop a taste for it and spread it on toast or mix it into yogurt. But that seemed like retrogression. Jam was the sticky-sweet precursor to our winter raspberry pies, not an improvement on them.

Then one evening, after a rich meal, I searched the kitchen for a light dessert. I found a half-forgotten bag of frozen raspberries stuffed into the corner of the freezer, and I found a dab of low-sugar red raspberry preserves in a jar in the refrigerator. I put them both in a dish, warmed them up in the microwave, and took a bite.

Zing! It was my mom's raspberry pie, come to life! The raspberries, the glaze, in a single-serving portion, with no pie crust to make! It was so easy, and so right.

Is this treat a regional obsession, or is it for everyone? Maybe you have to have grown up on raspberries to love it. Maybe you have to have participated in a family pie ceremony to truly understand.

Or maybe one bite of raspberry pie could change your winter into summer.

Winter Raspberries

2 cups frozen whole raspberries

1/3 to 1/2 cup low-sugar red raspberry preserves

Divide the berries between two bowls. Let sit on the kitchen counter until the berries are two-thirds defrosted – still cold and maybe containing some ice crystals, but not completely thawed.

Spoon half the preserves over each serving. Microwave on 50 percent power for 1 minute. (The dessert should be room temperature or slightly warm, but not hot.) Stir and serve immediately.

Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake Pie

6 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

1 egg

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen

1 chocolate cookie crumb pie crust

2 ounces semisweet chocolate

1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat cream cheese until light. Gradually mix in sweetened condensed milk, then egg, lemon juice, and vanilla, and beat until smooth.

Evenly spread raspberries on bottom of pie crust (no need to thaw frozen berries). Then pour the cream cheese mixture over the berries.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until center looks set. Cool to room temperature.

In a small saucepan, melt chocolate in heavy cream over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened and smooth. Pour over cheesecake and refrigerate.

Makes 8 servings.

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