A FELLOW gardener gave me a few fresh raspberries right off the bush, and I re-evaluated my opinion of this regal berry.
Until then I had encountered raspberries in fancy restaurants. I was dressed up, and they were presented on a silver platter and cost a king's ransom. But the other day, when I was given a handful of free raspberries, I was standing in the mud in the middle of a community garden in Baltimore's Druid Hill Park.
I had been hoeing weeds and had paused to talk with Larry Morris, a fellow gardener and guy who can grow almost anything, including raspberries. He was picking bright red berries from the spindly bushes growing on his garden plot and invited me to join him. I took up his offer, pulling a red and slightly hard berry from the bush.
I popped it into my mouth and was surprised on two fronts. First, it did not taste sugary. At some level, I knew that berries right off the bush didn't taste as sweet as the raspberry desserts and sauces that appear on dessert carts. But years of eating restaurant raspberries had conditioned me. I expected a sugar shot. Instead, I got a tart, fruity flavor.
Then there was the second surprise, a pleasing acid aftertaste. After eating a few more fresh raspberries, including some golden ones, it became clear to me why people go to the trouble of cultivating these berries. They are not prolific. They seem to produce ripe fruit in dribs and drabs. They can be attacked by birds.
But if you weather all these perils, you get an exquisite reward, the remarkable flavor of fresh raspberries. The best way to enjoy them, I think, is the way birds do, fresh from the bush.
After getting my fill of these just-off-the-bush raspberries - and that would take some time - I might pour cream, the high-fat stuff, over a bowl of them. Or I might sprinkle them with some port. Finally, if I were ever in the happy position of having more fresh raspberries than I could eat raw, I would try the fresh raspberry shortcake recipe in "Dungeness Crabs and Blackberry Cobblers," a book written by my friend Janie Hibler.
She lives in Portland, Ore. There they have more rain and more raspberries than we do in Maryland.
Fresh Raspberry Shortcake on Cream Biscuits
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup raspberry liqueur or light rum (optional) 3 cups fresh raspberries
4 tablespoons sugar
1 pint whipping cream
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and grease a baking sheet.
Sift dry ingredients. Stir in the cream until the dough is smooth. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 1 minute and roll out until 1/2 - to 3/4 -inch thickness. Cut into rounds or squares, dip in butter and arrange on baking sheet.
Bake for 15-18 minutes. Cool.
Cut 4 biscuits in half and lay 2 halves, cut side up, on 4 dessert plates. Sprinkle each biscuit half with liqueur if using.
Crush 2 cups of the raspberries with 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Equally divide the pureed raspberries over four biscuit halves. Top with the remaining biscuit halves and set aside.
Whip the cream with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and divide among the four shortcakes. Sprinkle the remaining whole raspberries over the whipped cream.- From "Dungeness Crabs and Blackberry Cobblers" (Knopf, 1991) by Janie Hibler