One of the best things I did in my garden a few years ago was to plant raspberry bushes. It was also one of the worst things I did.
I'll explain. But first a bit of personal history.
My father was the total gardener. He supplied not only our family, but much of the neighborhood with bouquets of cut flowers, vegetables, fruits, and berries. And did we have berries! Does Cher have tattoos? We were buried in berries – strawberries, blackberries, currants, blueberries. Even gooseberries. But raspberries were everyone's favorite.
Plump and red, they dangled like a sultan's treasury of pigeon-blood rubies on 5-foot-high canes protected by menacing thorns. It was my job to harvest them. No problem. I was brave. I was 5.
Early in the morning dew, I'd venture out in the backyard and, like St. George confronting the dragon, but without a suit of armor and armed only with a long bamboo pole, I'd stealthily creep up on the unsuspecting stalks. Then, attack! A few deft whacks and it was raining raspberries. Quickly gathering up the berried treasure I'd hightail it back to the house where the breakfast table was already set with bowls of cornflakes and a bottle of cold, heavy cream. Ambrosia.
Over the decades, much of our land was sold, and our bountiful berry patch finally succumbed to landscaping and an in-ground swimming pool.
So, eager to relive those daring days of yore, I planted a hedgerow of raspberries when I moved five years ago.
A local nursery sold foot-long, rooted raspberry stalks. And not just the usual red, yellow, and black; every bearing and fall-fruiting variety. I had to have some of each.
The first year they rested, the next year they ran, the third year they raced! They invaded my rhubarb, my potato patch, and now, I suspect, they're plotting to advance toward my tomatoes and cukes.
I could go up to the garden in cover of darkness with a machete and hack them all down, I just don't have the heart. I love them too much. And besides, my neighbors are counting on them to top their cornflakes and cold, heavy cream!
In the meantime, if you're heading down to Cape Cod this summer, stop by for some raspberries or a few canes to grow your own; I have plenty of both for all.
Raspberries most often appear on the dessert menu, but are equally delicious in savory dishes. Try them tossed in chicken salad, as a topping for grilled pork or salmon, and in with summer mixed greens.
Serves 4 to 6
1-1/2 to 1-3/4 pints combination blueberries and raspberries
2 cups sour cream or plain or vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup brown sugar for glaze
Toss berries together and pour into a lightly buttered 10-inch- square baking dish.
Mix together sour cream or yogurt, one-half cup brown sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice.
Spoon mixture evenly over berries. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4-cup brown sugar.
Wipe any residue mixture from around side of baking dish as this will blacken under broiler heat.
Place dish under broiler and cook until sugar begins to caramelize – about 3 to 4 minutes – and topping begins to bubble.
Spoon into individual dessert dishes while hot. Gratin may also be served over scoops of vanilla ice cream.
This sauce is delicious poured over pound cake, as a flavoring for sodas and milkshakes, or, for an embarrassingly simple Independence Day red-white-and-blue dessert, serve vanilla ice cream in a pool of Melba Sauce. Top with fresh raspberries. Your guests will stand up and salute!
1 pint fresh raspberries
1/3 cup currant jelly
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Purée raspberries about 10 seconds in a food processor, or 10 to 15 seconds in an electric blender. With a rubber spatula, press mixture through a fine sieve to remove seeds.
Pour purée into a small saucepan; mix in jelly and sugar.
Make a paste with cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of cold water; stir into raspberry purée.
Heat over low heat while stirring until thickened and clear.
Makes 2 cups.