When it comes to fresh fruit and berries, living in Ontario in the summer is like attending a season long music festival; just when one headliner finishes their act, along comes another to take centre stage. We started out the spring with rhubarb fool, we glutted ourselves on strawberries, then cherries, then blueberries, and now raspberries are making their way to the main stage.
Raspberries in this city and throughout Ontario are so prolific that we tend to take them for granted. This perennial plant, a member of the rose family, thrives in hot and wet climates, like the one that typifies much of Ontario. It is a hardy plant that will take over if you let it; anytime you stumble across a wild raspberry bush in the country you will notice how it goes on and on. The reason for this is that they self-propagate, spreading shoots from the main plant that spread underground, take root and develop into new plants, which in turn, do the same thing. It is also a plant that can be easily grown by taking a cutting and just planting it in moist soil. In nature, the bushes are often spread or introduced to far-flung areas by birds and other fauna that ingest the fruit and fertilize with their droppings; as each raspberry contains about a hundred seeds, this is a pretty reliable way of expanding. Of interest to urban gardeners is that the lovely little flowers of the raspberry bush are a favourite hang out and destination for honeybees and butterflies.
Lucky for us, since the bush bears fruit ate waist and shoulder level for most of us, they are easy to pick, unlike strawberries or blueberries which involve back-bending labour, and cherry picking, which often relies on a wobbly ladder. It’s easy to tell when they are ripe, they are deep in colour and come off the vine with no resistance whatsoever. Raspberries, like most local, just-picked fruit are habit forming, and it’s pretty easy to go through a pint by just snacking on them, but they are one of the most iconic summer fruits when it comes to preserving, baking, and making wine and liqueur. Chambord, for example, the classic French liqueur has been made from red and black raspberries in the Loire Valley since the seventeenth century.
Aside from making jam, one of our favourite ways to enjoy raspberries is by making a simple, classic raspberry coulis. A coulis is simply a smooth sauce made from a purée of fresh fruit and run through a sieve to remove the seeds. A raspberry coulis is incredible as a topping for vanilla ice-cream, or drizzled over a chocolate molton cake, lemony cheesecake or key lime pie instead of whipped cream or meringue. Raspberry coulis is also amazing if used, in moderation, as a sauce for roasted or grilled meats like chicken, pork or game like duck or venison.
When making jam, we like to leave the seeds in. Like many fruit and vegetable seeds, they are good for you as they are full of antioxidants and high in fibre. When it comes to overall nutrition, raspberries are exceptionally good for you, high in vitamin C and K, manganese, potassium, copper and omega-3 fatty acids. Sweet music to our ears from this little rock star of the summer.
1 ½ pints fresh raspberries
¾ cups sugar
1/3 cup water
Mix berries, sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium flame. Reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved, 6-10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Blend until smooth and pass it through a fine strainer or cheesecloth. Place in mason jar and refrigerate.