A world of berries
Jams, pies and tarts are all common uses for berries. The English turn them into mousses, fools and flummeries, while America’s fondness for baking sees berries incorporated into scones and pastry-topped desserts with such delightful names as grunts, cobblers, slumps and buckles. Blueberries are particularly popular, and are included in muffins and bagels. The French use raspberries in fine tarts, vinaigrettes and salads. Italians treat berries simply; a favourite combination is strawberries with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a little black pepper.
Behind the name…
Botanically, berries are fruit with internal seeds. This includes citrus fruits, grapes, blueberries, cucumbers and tomatoes, but excludes strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and mulberries. The dictionary’s definition: ‘any small, (usually) stoneless and juicy fruit, irrespective of botanical structure’, is what we commonly regard as berries. The origin of the word is unclear, but there are suggestions that it is of Celtic origin and means red.
These North American natives were introduced to Australia in the 1960s. They grow on bushes in clusters and, unlike other berries, do not continue to ripen after picking. The pigments that colour the fruit are also the ones that contain antioxidants – blueberries have the most of all fruits – and the berries are hailed as a ‘super food’, as research suggests consumption can protect against ageing, heart disease and macular degeneration, as well as helping to boost the memory. A recent finding is that they also contain the anti-cholesterol compound pterostibene.
Blackberries and hybrids
Although there are hundreds of varieties of blackberry, the name usually refers to the European version (bramble). In Australia, wild blackberries are a noxious weed; commercially-bred hybrids are grown in contained environments. Some of these, such as burgundy-coloured loganberries (considered by some to be a species in their own right and by others to be a blackberry/raspberry cross), purplish-black youngberries and reddish-purple boysenberries (a raspberry/blackberry/loganberry cross) can be enjoyed from early summer to mid-autumn.
Raspberries are the most perishable and fragile of berries. The red variety is more common than the golden and black varieties. In peak season, look for punnets containing all three types. There are two seasons – summer and autumn – although the warmer winters of late have seen a continuous supply (with price tags to match).
Both black and white mulberries are available; the latter are fed to silkworms. Deciduous black-mulberry trees are more a mainstay of suburban gardens. Their season starts in October and runs through to February. Mulberries are often collected from the ground, so need to be washed. Do this just before eating and wear gloves and an apron, as they do stain badly.
There are two seasons in Australia for strawberries: winter and summer. Winter strawberries are grown in Queensland, while summer ones come from NSW and Victoria. A 100g serving of strawberries provides twice the daily requirement of vitamin C; they’re also high in antioxidants and a good source of vitamin K, the B vitamins and iodine.