Raspberries: ripe for the picking

What better dessert in the summer than a fresh-fruit pie? Take it along on a picnic or serve it at a neighborhood get-together. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Whip up a quick raspberry sauce to top ice cream or cake with a fresh tang.

A new way to enjoy raspberries — as raspberry schnapps, a smooth liqueur for sipping.

Three fruits at their July peaks combine in this pie: raspberries, blueberries and peaches. You can use more or less of each, as your tastes or backyard harvest dictate.

‘Tis the season... to harvest the delicious, nutritious, pretty red raspberry.

This tasty fruit is beginning to ripen in Minnesota and is ready for picking. It is a treat whether eaten plain or made into jams, sauces, desserts or beverages.

A news release from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture said cool, wet weather delayed the growing season slightly, but berry lovers can expect a variety of berries ready to be picked and enjoyed throughout the state this month.

If you miss the summer crop, fall raspberries will be ready from early August through mid-October, or until a very hard freeze.

Most berry lovers buy raspberries from a grocery store, farmers’ market or berry farm; however, a few families have a raspberry patch in their back yard or garden.

A quiet takeover

Raspberries are a type of bramble, and are in the “cane berry” group along with blackberries. They propagate using basal shoots (also known as suckers) that extend underground to send up new plants. Vigorous new canes can pop up some distance from the main plant, and raspberries can take over a garden if left unchecked - which is probably what happened in my back yard.

I don’t think of it as a problem that I have to work my way around the randomly-spaced raspberry plants, which are thriving sans fence or trellis support; I’m glad there are more raspberries for me to pick.

There are enough to eat by hand, freeze some and make a sauce, which tastes especially good on ice cream.

Raspberries are very nutritious and are near the top of all fruits for antioxidant strength. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, manganese, riboflavin, magnesium, niacin, potassium and copper. They are among plant foods with the highest fiber content.

The 2014 Minnesota Grown directory lists 50 summer raspberry producers selling pick-your-own, pre-picked, or both. A visit to a pick-your-own berry farm can be a fun all-ages summer day trip. But call ahead before visiting to ensure availability of berries and good picking conditions.

Handle with care

Berries are very delicate, extremely fragile and perishable, so handle them gently. They are best picked in the early morning or evening instead of in the hot sun. Pick all of the ripe fruit, large and small, and look under the leaves, as they like to hide.

Refrigerate raspberries as soon as possible. Place in a container and cover with a slightly damp paper towel to keep them from drying out. They will keep in the refrigerator three to five days.

Just before using, carefully rinse off raspberries under a gentle spray of water and dry them by spreading them on a couple layers of paper toweling on a plate.

Freeze raspberries as jam, jelly, premixed pie fillings or sauce. You can mix them with sugar (plenty of online sites have directions for this) to keep their color better, or you can freeze them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, only putting them into a container once they’re frozen, to have single berries to toss into cereal or salads through the winter. Frozen raspberries keep for up to a year.

Sip and savor

Or you can try raspberries as beverages - for all ages or spiked. They’re especially tasty in raspberry schnapps, a family favorite of Maplewood residents Bruce and Linda Sala. The couple has been making the beverage for three to four years now, expanding their batches as the drink’s popularity catches on.

“We give it as Christmas gifts and also make it for our own consumption,” Bruce says. Although they do not have their own raspberry patch, they do pick their own berries. “We pilfer from Yul (Yost, of Roseville) and my folks!” Bruce admits.

They researched recipes online, figured out the strong points of each, then put together their own recipe. “We made the recipe up on the fly,” Bruce says.

As a recipient of this special raspberry schnapps, I can second Bruce’s description: “It is smooth and good.”

When choosing recipes for this article, I asked many people, “What is your favorite raspberry recipe?” Most folks responded, “We just eat them plain.”

From cane to hand to mouth does seem to be a popular method. But for those who put in a few extra steps and ingredients, the raspberry makes a delicious dish.

Vonny Rohloff can be reached at advertising@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7861.

Grow your own

For those folks who want to start a new raspberry patch, plant raspberries in the early spring in a hole roomy enough for the roots to spread. Plants should be set 3 to 5 feet apart.

Dig a hole 1 foot deep and 1 foot wide per plant. Space plants about 3 feet apart in rows 8 feet apart.

Mulching is important throughout the season to conserve moisture and block weeds. Keep a maximum 3-inch-deep layer of mulch around the plants at all times. Raspberries need moisture, so water 1 inch per week.

Prune in the fall to cut out the older brown canes; they’ve completed their bearing year. That will make room for young, green, healthy canes that will reward you next summer.

Raspberries can be grown in most areas of Minnesota. They need full sunlight, good drainage and room for good air circulation.

Raspberry plants can also be beneficial to your local environment: the flowers are a nectar source for honeybees and other pollinators.

Basic proportions, to keep in mind what you can make as you pick:
• 1 pint (2 cups) weighs approximately 3/4 pounds.
• 2 pints (4 cups) are needed for a 9-inch pie.
• 1 - 1 1/4 cups = 10 ounce package frozen berries.
• 1 cup of raspberries is only 61 calories and high in dietary fiber.

Raspberry Sauce

2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water more water if desired
1/4 cup of sugar
2 to 3 cups raspberries

Dissolve the cornstarch in 1/4 cup cold water. Add the sugar. Stir. Cook on medium heat, stirring, until the mixture thickens. Add the raspberries, stir gently and bring to simmer. Cook for a minute. Add more liquid if a thinner sauce is desired.

This is a good topping for ice cream, brownies and ice cream, or on cereal. The raspberry sauce keeps longer in the refrigerator than plain, picked raspberries.

Homemade Raspberry Schnapps

The Salas note: this is not a precise recipe. You may add more or less sugar, depending on how sweet you like your schnapps.

Fill a clean 1 quart jar half full of fresh raspberries.

Add 1/2 cup sugar.

Top off the jar with good vodka.

Place the lid on jar and close tightly.

Shake the jar until the sugar is dissolved.

Place in a cool location, out of direct sunlight.

Shake the container daily for 30 days.

Strain the raspberries through cheesecloth into an airtight container. For clear schnapps, do not press the berries.

Do not throw away the berries. They can be used as an adult ice cream topping or as the base for raspberry chutney.

— Recipe from Bruce and Linda Sala

Raspberry Pie made with junket

The easiest way to make a pie? With junket, which provides both the sugar and thickening in one package.

1 baked piecrust
2 to 4 cups raspberries
1 package Danish Dessert raspberry junket (found in the gelatin section of grocery store)
whipped cream for garnish

Follow directions for “pie glaze” on junket package. Mix berries into junket, pour into baked pie shell and refrigerate three to four hours until cool and set. Serve with whipped cream.

Fresh Fruit Pie

Go ahead and experiment with balancing types of fruit — perhaps your family has other favorites to add!

Pie crust for a 9-inch double-crust pie
4 cups fruit (for example: 2 cups of peaches cut-up, 1 cup blueberries and 1 cup raspberries)
1/4 cup tapioca
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon butter

 Mix the fruit, tapioca, sugar and lemon juice.
 Let stand 15 minutes.
 Fill a 9-inch pie crust with the fruit mixture. Dot with butter. Cover with top crust and make small slits or cover with a lattice top. Bake at 400 degrees in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes.
Use parchment paper under the pie in the oven to catch escaped juice.

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