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June/July 2006

Getting to Know: Berries

We tasted 12 varieties of fresh berries, some familiar and some exotic, to appreciate their unique flavors.

Blackberry

Also known as brambleberries, these large, purple-black berries grow on tall, thorny bushes, a sign that they belong to the rose family. Blackberries are very juicy and delicate, with a “sweet-sour” flavor similar to that of “fresh cherries.”

Blueberry

Blueberries exhibit a “pleasant pop” when eaten and have an “acidic, almost lemony” flavor. To distribute blueberries evenly in batters for cakes, muffins, and more, toss them with a little flour before gently folding them in.

Cape Gooseberry

A relative of the tomatillo, this marble-sized berry grows encased in a papery (and poisonous) husk that reveals an edible neon yellow fruit when opened. Cape gooseberries have an “astringent tropical fruit flavor” mixed with a “piney acidity.”

Cranberry

Unlike most fruits, cranberries, which grow in bogs, become more tart (“like underripe grapefruit”) as they ripen. Mild-tasting white cranberry juice is made from underripe berries that have not yet turned red. Available fresh only in the fall, these berries freeze well, so buy a few extra bags at Thanksgiving time.

Currant

These diminutive berries, which can be red, white, or black, are most commonly associated with the liqueur cassis. Like grapes, currants grow in clusters, but they have large, edible seeds whose sourness and texture make the fruit “reminiscent of pomegranate seeds,” with a mild “raspberry flavor.”

Fraise des Bois

French for “strawberry of the woods,” these tiny wild strawberries are a treasured delicacy in Europe. The seeds give the berries a “grainy texture,” but the fruit possesses an aroma “similar to lilacs.” Their “intense melon” flavor is best appreciated in dishes where the berries are not heated.

Golden Raspberry

These berries are most commonly found in specialty or farmers markets. They are a bit firmer than red raspberries, and their flavor, though not as fruity, is “definitely sweeter,” with “highlights of honey.”

Gooseberry

These plump berries have a “mouth-puckering tartness” that “recalls slightly underripe grapes.” Tart green berries are best cooked with sugar in puddings and jams; sweeter berries (usually yellow or red) are good in salads or as garnishes.

Huckleberry

These wild berries are similar to blueberries in appearance but have a deep, wine-colored exterior. They taste “grapey and a little sour,” almost like “a cross between a blueberry, a cherry, and a kiwi.”

Raspberry

A thorny member of the rose family, this sweet fruit is “aromatic,” with a “bright, winey complexity.” Be careful when washing raspberries—they become soggy in seconds. Dip them in a bowl of cold water and immediately retrieve. And don’t wash until you need them.

Strawberry

These rotund berries display a “firm, meaty” texture and a “sweet, flowery flavor” balanced with a “surprising amount of acidity.” Good strawberries are a brilliant red straight through to the core (a white center is a sign that the berries were picked too early).

Wild Blueberry

Smaller than their cultivated cousins, wild blueberries have a more “pronounced seediness.” Their flavor is more intense, with a “perfumed sweetness” balanced by “peppery acidity.” Look for these berries in late summer or buy them frozen any time of year.