Raspberries are an extraordinarily flavorful fruit with a tart-sweet, almost floral taste that can't be duplicated. A bramble fruit and cousin to the blackberry, raspberries one flourished wild in North America; now almost all are cultivated and available only in limited supplies. Unlike blackberries, which are relatively firm, raspberries are hollow and are therefore extremely fragile. The plants themselves have a low yield, and the berries frequently break when they're picked, further reducing the quantity that can be shipped fresh. Because of all these factors, in the winter raspberries can be as high as six or seven dollars a half-pint--and that's wholesale! At the height of the season, however, you can enjoy them at more reasonable prices, especially if they are local.
Ninety-nine percent of commercially cultivated raspberries are red, but there are also black and golden varieties. Black raspberries can be quite good, but golden raspberries are not as sweet or flavorful as the red. For my money, rose-red raspberries can't be beat. Although they're never inexpensive, try to enjoy them when they're in season. There is no finer berry.
Raspberries are most abundant during June, July, and August. Local raspberries are available for about three to four weeks during the summer; the exact month will depend upon your region. (Most cultivars do not thrive in the South.) Some farmers will grow two crops, with the first ripening in late June and early July, and the second in September or early October. This year California raspberries will be priced reasonable from May 15th through the middle of June because of good supply.
Raspberries from California are available from summer through early fall; in the late fall raspberries arrive from the Pacific Northwest, and in the winter, from Chile.
Look for local raspberries at roadside stands or farm markets. If you find a farm that offers pick-your-own berries, don't pass them up. Like a rip blackberry, a ripe raspberry will practically fall off the vine into you hand.
At the market select dry, firm fruits with excellent form and hollow centers. Avoid soft, wet or mildewed berries that seem to be stuck together, and fruit in badly stained containers.
Always refrigerate, and use the same day of purchase if at all possible.
Rinse briefly in cold water just before serving. Raspberries are delicious fresh and whole as is or with a little cream. Fresh raspberries are also wonderful pureed, slightly sweetened, and used as a sauce for ice cream, custards, or other fruits. Freeze the puree for an elegant sorbet.
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