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Raspberries

Rubus idaeus


Description

Fresh, pink raspberries are something to make the most of during their short season. They’re a delicious treat on their own or a cheerful addition to a dessert, whether fresh or made into a sauce.

Raspberries are not a true berry; they’re actually a member of the rose family. Alongside blackberries and boysenberries, they’re an aggregate fruit, meaning they’re composed of lots of mini-fruits with a central seed, called drupelets. However they’re unusual among such fruits, in that when picked the central hull comes away from the fruit and leaves a hollow inside. For that reason raspberries should be handled very carefully as they’re easily damaged.

Though they’re typically deep pink, there’s also a variety of golden raspberries, which have an even more delicate flavour and are slightly sweeter. Other varieties, such as purple and black raspberries also exist, but you’re not likely to find them easily.

Raspberries are an excellent source of fibre, vitamin C, and manganese, as well as vitamin B2, folate, potassium, copper, and magnesium. They also contain significant amounts of the antioxidant ellagic acid, which helps protect cells from damage and may provide some protection against some types of cancer.

Choose raspberries very carefully. If you can, go to a pick-your-own farm, but if you have to buy them by the punnet, make sure there are no rotten raspberries, as just one rotten berry can spoil the lot. Look at the underside of the punnet, and if you can, open it and smell it. It should smell delicately fragrant, with no mouldy odour. Make sure there are no hulls left inside the berries, as this indicates they were picked too early.

Raspberries should be eaten as soon as possible, but they can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days, and it’s best to do so in a single layer on a paper towel. They’ll be good for three months in the freezer.

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History

Raspberries are native to hilly areas, heaths, and woodlands of Europe and Asia. It’s clear that they’ve been a part of humans’ diet for thousands of years: seeds and other evidence of raspberries has been found in prehistoric lake villages in modern-day Switzerland.

Interestingly, there’s no mention of them by the Romans; one theory goes that the fruit may have been so common they just didn’t bother. It’s clear, however, from 16th century writings, that the blackberry was considered the superior fruit and the raspberry was used more in medicine.

New Zealand once had a thriving raspberry export industry, with an annual crop in the early 20th century of about 100 tonnes. After slowly building its way up after the Depression, in 1970 a virus hit the crops. The industry recovered from that, peaking in 1985 with an annual production of 2600 tonnes over 550 hectares. But that all came to an end in 1988, when the raspberry bud moth pest was found to be infecting the fruit and Australia stopped accepting New Zealand raspberries. By 2006, the industry had only 60 growers left over 200 hectares, and since 1995 most of the domestic supply of raspberries has been imported from countries such as Chile.

Uses

Raspberries don’t often need more than a dusting of icing sugar and a decent splash of cream, but they do well in just about anything. They’re delicious, fresh or frozen, in a crumble with apples and peaches, giving a change in texture and a touch of tartness. Raspberries are also made to go with chocolate – a chewy chocolate brownie is pure decadence when studded with raspberries through the batter.

Raspberry sauce for ice cream or chocolate mousse is easy to make – just cook raspberries down with sugar to taste and a small amount of water, and push through a sieve if you don’t like the pips.

Raspberries are also a great flavouring for vinegar.

Try not to wash your raspberries if you can avoid it as they’ll soak it all up and the flavour will be seriously diluted; if you really feel the need, give them a gentle wipe with a damp cloth or paper towel.

Facts

Raspberry leaves have been used in herbal medicine for centuries to help menstrual cycles. Even today, pregnant women often use it to help tone their uterine muscles ahead of labour, but the jury’s out on whether this actually works.

A French myth states that raspberries were white until a nymph named Ida, picking some raspberries to soothe a crying infant Jupiter, scratched herself on the thorns and turned the fruit red with her blood.



Strawberries »« Quince

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