Recipe-phile: Bears, humans alike lauding this summer's raspberry crop
Most people I've talked to have agreed: this is a legendary year for wild raspberries. The bears know it, too. They're obviously delirious with sugar. I've never before actually spotted a bear until this year, when I've seen a wooly backside leisurely waddling up the road and two-lane flattened paths through the berry patches.
But I understand what grips them. The woods have been dripping with raspberries and it's easy to get over-excited - if not a little greedy. I was out picking twice last week, once more than I really had the time for, and I came home with a bushel basket of ripe beauties, so heavy that droplets of thick red juice pearled on the bottom.
Wild raspberries are generally small, with a higher seed-to-juice ratio than cultivated berries. So instead of jam this year I made a big batch of wild raspberry syrup - all the intense flavor of the jam with none of the seeds that stick in the pockets of your teeth.
Spoon the raspberry syrup over ice cream, into yogurt or mix a little syrup into a glass of whole milk if you need a little sweet. But when poured generously on pancakes (or better yet, crepes) watch out: the stuff gets addictive.
Making syrup leaves you with a pile of pulpy raspberry seeds, ideal for making raspberry vinegar. I'm looking forward to dribbling mine over a roasted beet salad, and a green salad with blue cheese, and then maybe a plate of juicy ripe garden tomatoes.
But in banner years like this one, you might want to freeze some whole raspberries. Fan them out in a single layer on a sheet tray, freeze them solid and then pour them into a plastic container.
Because wild raspberries are so fragile, this is easiest to do right after they're picked. Most recipes call for washing the berries, but unless they're covered in pollen or look dusty, I don't because washing can turn them to mush. I just try to pick clean, and then when I get home I tilt the bucket and run the berries through my fingers and drop them onto a platter, all the while fishing out stems, bits of leaf and the occasional bumbling aphid.
Nothing could be easier to make than a German Rumpot - no cooking, no processing, no fiddling and no refrigeration required. You assemble layers of berries, sugar and kirsch (cherry liquor) or rum in a large jar and throw it in a dark, cool corner.
Around Christmas-time just pull it out, dust it off and stick a ladle in it. Last year we were dropping an ounce or so in the bottom of a champagne glass and topping it off with bubbly. It was a hit. As the bubbles drifted upward they dragged behind them a pool of magenta syrup for an effect that vaguely resembled the northern lights; and the embalmed berries lurking about the bottom were like cold, chewy candies.
It was arctic and warming all at once.
From Preserving by Oded Schwartz
2 pints (1 kg) wild raspberries, picked through and rinsed if necessary
1/3 cup water
Combine the raspberries and water in a large metal bowl. Crush the berries and set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, double boiler-fashion. Cook very gently for one hour.
Pour the mixture into a jelly bag (or a large sieve lined with two layers of cheesecloth) set into a deep bowl for catching the juice. Let the mixture drip for up to four hours, gently stirring the pulp in the sieve now and then but not pressing on it.
Measure the juice and allow 1 1/2 cups of sugar for every 2 cups of raspberry juice. Pour the mixture into a wide-bottomed pot over medium-high heat.
Bring the syrup to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Boil for three to four minutes, or until they liquid is thick and syrupy but not jelled.
Pour the hot syrup into sterilized half-pint jelly jars and cool before capping. Store in the refrigerator or, if you want to can it, process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Yields about 3 cups
(This recipe was originally published in the Star Tribune Taste section)
You can make it all at once, as directed below, or in stages. If you're picking wild berries in season, you can start the jam with raspberries, let it macerate, then add blackberries or blueberries.
(You can also make it with a single fruit: all blackberries, for example.) If you have odd weights of fruit but want to use everything you've got, follow this basic formula: Weigh the fruit. Gently mix with half its weight in sugar. (For example, if the berries weigh 1 pound, use 1/2 pound of sugar.) Add to sterilized jar. Cover with strong rum or kirsch.
1 pound, 8 ounces strawberries
1 pound, 8 ounces raspberries
1 pound, 8 ounces blackberries
2 1/4 pounds sugar (5 cups + 2 tablespoons)
1 bottle rum or kirsch
Wash a large (1.5 gallon or larger) glass jar or ceramic crock in hot, soapy water and sterilize it by rinsing it with boiling water. Let dry.
If wild and free of dirt, don't wash any of the berries. Otherwise, wash them quickly in three batches: place each batch of berries in a colander, rinse briefly and blot on a dry towel. Repeat for remaining berries.
Slice strawberries in half (or if large, in quarters). Mix with 12 ounces (1 3/4 cup) sugar and pour into the bottom of the crock.
Mix the raspberries with 12 ounces (1 3/4 cup) sugar and pour on top of the strawberries. Mix the blackberries with 12 ounces (1 3/4 cup) sugar and pour on top of the raspberries. Pour in enough rum to just cover the berries, shaking the crock to distribute the berries and allow air bubbles to surface.
Cover and let sit in a cool place for three days. Check to make sure that the alcohol covers the berries; if not, top off with rum to cover. Let marinate in a cool, dark place for at least one month, or preferably, five months, before consuming. (If any mold develops on your rumpot, you must discard it.) Scoop out the fruit to serve over ice cream or custard; serve the liquid as a liquor in small glasses.
Raspberry pulp and seeds
White wine vinegar
Take the pulp and seeds that remain from a batch of raspberry syrup and put it into a sterilized glass jar. Add white wine vinegar to cover by an inch. Run a paper towel around the rim and the inside of the jar to remove any bits of pulp not covered by vinegar.
After a day, check the mixture and top off with more vinegar to cover if necessary. Let the mixture macerate for three to four weeks in the refrigerator. Pass the mixture through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth and pour into clean, sterilized bottles. Cap and store in a cool, dark place. It should keep for about four months.