Alan Tangren: Tart as a raspberry | TheUnion.com

Alan Tangren: Tart as a raspberry

Alan Tangren
Columnist

Dear Alan: I love raspberries and have noticed that much of the year they come from Mexico. What is the best time for local raspberries?

Alan: Raspberries are one of the most delicious, and fragile, fruits that we find in the market.

The first summertime basket of bright, aromatic raspberries on my kitchen counter is an invitation to put them in a bowl, sprinkle lightly with sugar and drizzle with good, thick cream.

As you mentioned, more and more raspberries are being imported from Mexico, Chile and even New Zealand in our winter months. These berries must be picked before they reach perfect ripeness, and are never as good as fresh, local berries.

There are at least 100 varieties of raspberries available to local commercial growers and home gardeners. Most shoppers are familiar with red raspberries, but they also come in delicious colors of black, yellow, gold, apricot and purple.

Some of the best local red raspberries have a small crop in early summer, but their main crop starts in mid-August. This late crop continues until the first big rains of fall.

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Right now, I like to combine raspberries in desserts with late summer nectarines and peaches. The tart flavor of the berries really accentuates the sweetness of the stone fruits.

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I can't imagine wasting an August without crisp and cobbler combining raspberries and nectarines. And I always make a fresh version of Peach Melba; vanilla ice cream smothered with sliced peaches, raspberries and raspberry sauce.

For a wintertime treat, you can preserve raspberries in brandy. Fold the preserved berries into chocolate desserts, spoon over ice cream, or use in a sauce.

To make, fill a quart jar with raspberries. Add 1 cup of sugar and cover with brandy or Cognac. Close the jar and let it sit for four days. Shake the jar during this time to make sure sugar is dissolved. These will keep until next raspberry season!

Because they are so fragile, most local raspberries are sold in the nearly-ubiquitous plastic "clamshell" with the little absorbent pad in the bottom. These hold about 1-1/2 cups of fruit.

Some raspberries, especially at farmers markets, may be in shallow cardboard baskets. Don't buy those that are stained with the juice of crushed berries.

Choose berries that look velvety and plump. Check carefully for mold, which often starts growing in the stem cavity and may be hard to detect.

One moldy berry can ruin the flavor of a bowlful.

Don't try to store raspberries for very long. As soon as you get them home, open the basket and carefully pour out the berries onto a shallow pan lined with paper towels. Remove any stray stems or leaves.

Refrigerate or freeze right away. Frozen berries should be bagged airtight.

I never wash raspberries before use. I only buy those that have never been sprayed. If you must, give them a quick rinse in a colander under a stream of cold water.

Fresh raspberry sauce is an easy and quick garnish for ice cream, summer fruits and cakes. It couldn't be easier to make.

Fresh Raspberry Sauce

Makes 1-1/2 cups

2 to 3 cups raspberries, 2 small baskets

1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar

Optional: fresh lemon juice

Purée the berries, sugar in a food processor or blender. Use a flexible silicone spatula to press the purée through a non-reactive strainer to remove the seeds.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with lemon juice and sugar. Thin with water if needed. Cover and refrigerate until using. Will keep for three days in the refrigerator, longer in the freezer.

Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef's Tables at Tess' Kitchen Store, 115 Mill St. in Grass Valley. Learn more at http://www.tesskitchenstore.com. Contact him at alan.tesskitchen@gmail.com.