July is a very fruity month for seasonal foodies with most of the good, fresh stuff being berries of one sort or another. Berries are the perfect summer food because they’re so easy to eat, require minimum preparation and could even be the focus of a sunny day out if you opt for a visit to a PYO farm. So it’s a bit of a shame that I’m a bit picky about my berries! Strawberries and cherries (both at their best in the summer months) are fine; blueberries and raspberries (both equally in season) are more challenging. I’m not sure why the pickiness, although it might be a texture thing. I’m not a fan of seedy bits – the sort that get stuck in your teeth. And, while I love the face-scrunching acidity of citrus fruits, tart berries are a much sharper and less pleasant experience.
So my challenge for the month was to find alternative ways of eating berries so that I can make more of this sunshiney bounty.
Strawberries are easy because they need very little work. There’s much that can be done to them but they are usually at their best with just a scattering of sugar and a teensy pot of single cream for dipping on the side. If you wanted to be a bit more adventurous, you can try a tip passed to me by a friend and use balsamic vinegar. Here’s a recipe by Skye Gingell which is very simple to follow. There’s also no reason why you couldn’t slightly warm the mashed/sliced strawberries and the balsamic vinegar before serving, particularly if you’re going to follow Skye’s advice and add some ice cream on the side: the warmth really brings out the flavour of the strawberries. If you wanted something much more ‘out there’, try creating a savoury salad of sliced strawberries, mixed salad leaves (spinach is a good option), balsamic vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice and a twist of black pepper. Jamie Oliver also recommends serving with grilled halloumi cheese.
If you’re not eating them by the handful straight off the stalk at a picnic, cherries work really well with chocolate. Diana Henry describes this recipe as ‘Wicked, wicked, wicked (even a little naff), but oh so good!’ Which is just the best way of convincing anyone to eat anything, as far as I can see. Or for something a bit simpler (or only slightly more complicated than eating them off the stalk), and minus the chocolate, try this recipe for cherries in rose wine.
Blueberries are much harder. Possibly thanks to Roald Dahl and Violet Beauregarde (she of the three-course-meal chewing gum and the unfortunate swelling), I am suspicious of the blueberry. By scattering them over cereal or porridge you can add a hit of vitamins and antioxidants to your breakfast. But I’m realistically unlikely to do that any time soon. One place where a blueberry is not an unwelcome addition however, is a muffin. And this Nigella recipe claims to be the best. It’s smoke and mirrors, but a blueberry muffin just feels less unhealthy than a double chocolate choc-chip with a helping of chocolate muffin. I’m also drawn to this recipe for blueberry, lime and coconut ice cream from Good Food, which could just be the mini-heatwave we’re having today but could also be the happy tropical flavours and the hint of far eastern holidays.
Raspberries are very perishable and have a tendency to get mushy, which can be unpleasant on the palate. One good tip I picked up on the BBC Good Food website is to remove them from the packaging when you get them home and arrange them in one generously-spaced layer on a piece of kitchen roll on a plate. They’re very fragile and if they’re not squishing each other, will keep for a bit longer without mushing at the edges. Although you can’t really freeze fresh raspberries, you can turn a glut of them into a simple coulis, which can then be frozen and served with desserts or ice cream as required. Tongue-in-cheek website notdelia.co.uk has this simple recipe for a really simple coulis from Leith’s Cookery Bible. Alternatively, many people recommend using raspberries to flavour vinegar. Simply clean and mash your raspberries, then add them to some white wine vinegar and leave to infuse for at least 5 days. The raspberries will turn the vinegar a vibrant red (which makes it a fun, home-made gift option) and the flavour is perfect when combined with a fresh goat’s cheese salad.