By Greg Dunne
May 28, 2016 (San Diego’s East County) -- It’s a berry good time of the year. The four main berries in the markets are strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and Blackberries. What comes to mind right away with berries is snack time. When I’m watching TV and wanting a bit of ice cream or piece of pie, but don’t want to eat something that is not healthy I go to a small bowl of berries or some Greek yogurt. And of course, the combination of the two is better than ice cream and much healthier.
The question I have been asked most in my 35 plus years as a produce manager is, “can you freeze blueberries”? The answer is YES, you can. Rinse and drain the berries, and layer them on paper towels to dry well. When dry, place them in a single layer on a jellyroll pan or cookie sheet, and put the pan in the freezer. (If needed, line the pan with parchment paper.) After they are frozen, you can put them into freezer bags or a plastic container. Frozen berries will last about three months is the conventional wisdom. I on the other hand have left berries in the freezer for over six months and they were just fine. Frozen berries are great for smoothies and other delicious berry ideas – such as frozen berries with a creamy hot chocolate sauce. So when you see them on sale, don’t be afraid to pick up a couple extra berries and freeze them.
All berries sold locally are grown in California at this time of year and will continue to be that way until late summer. The exception might be blueberries that have bumper crops in Oregon and Washington State. A couple of fun facts about blueberries: Blueberries are native to North America. They can be used as a natural food dye. Legend has it that early American colonists boiled them with milk to make gray paint. The blueberry bush is a relative of the azalea plant. And we all know blueberries are great nutritionally with anti-oxidants, but according to the University of Maine, a study suggested that blueberries could protect against memory loss. The wild blueberry is the official fruit of Maine.
Strawberries are the largest fruit of the four main berries. Many fruits only have one seed; the strawberry has as many as 200 seeds on the outside of a single berry. It’s the only fruit to have their seeds on the outside. Also, the strawberry tends to be the most popular in preparing (Jams, Preserves, and Pies) and seems to be the entrenched in our culture. Everything from songs (Strawberry Fields by the Beatles), to Starbucks with Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino. Strawberry festivals happen all over the nation and here in California take place annually in many cities from Vista, Oxnard, all the way to Yosemite. And pick your own. Strawberries are popular here in San Diego, Fallbrook and Carlsbad to name a couple.
Raspberries and blackberries are more delicate and do not keep as long as Blueberries and strawberries. When choosing Raspberries look for plump, dry berries and avoid ones that seem collapsed, or slightly wet. Raspberries don’t keep well after purchasing them. Try to use them within a day or two after bringing them home. Don’t wash them until ready to be eaten. Blackberries? I like blackberries, but the seeds always get stuck between my teeth. So 1 through 4 in preference at my household is Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries, and Blackberries. Berries are nutritious and delicious. Prices should very reasonable from now until mid-summer. Pick up a few extra berries and put them in the freezer.
Here are a couple of recipes from Dianne Dunne.
1 Cup Fresh Sliced Strawberries
2 Tablespoons Honey
2 Tablespoons Apply Cider
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Fresh Lemon Juice
¼ Teaspoon each Salt and Black Pepper
Add all ingredients to blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Will keep chilled in your refrigerator for several days.
Great served with your favorite salad greens tossed with sliced strawberries and white peaches, blueberries, sliced almonds, and thinly sliced shallots as shown here.
Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake
1 Package Lemon Cake Mix
½ Cup Butter, Softened
1 Cup Sour Cream
1 Tablespoon Fresh Lemon Juice
2 Teaspoons Grated Lemon Peel
2 Cups Fresh Blueberries
Preheat oven to 350 and coat 12-cup Bundt pan with oil and a dusting of flour. Rinse blueberries in a colander and set aside.
Reserve ¼ cup of the cake mix for later use. Beat remaining cake mix and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until crumbly. Beat in sour cream, eggs, lemon juice and lemon peel until blended. Toss Blueberries in the reserved cake mix to coat and fold into cake batter. Spread evenly in prepared pan.
Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 30 minutes. Remove from pan to wit rack to cool completely.
Optional Lemon Glaze. Mix together 2/3 cup sifted confectioners' sugar, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel. Drizzle over cooled cake.
Chocolate Mocha Raspberry Mousse Cake.
This cake is a lot of work, but well worth the effort. The completed cake is four layers with raspberry mousse in-between, with a chocolate ganache poured over the top and garnished with fresh raspberries.
1 Box Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix
1 ¼ Cups Water
1/3 Cup Vegetable Oil
2 Tablespoons Coffee-Flavored Liqueur or Cold Brewed Coffee
Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour bottoms and side of two 8-inch round cake pans.
Combine ingredients in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until blended. Beat an additional two minutes on medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into two prepared pans and bake 34-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool ten minutes and remove to cooling rack. Cool completely 1 hour.
For easier handling, refrigerate cake layers until ready to assemble cake.
1 ½ cups fresh raspberries
9 oz. white chocolate, finely chopped
1 ½ cups heavy cream, divided use
2 Teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
2 Tablespoons water
Pink Food Coloring (optional)
Puree ½ cup raspberries in a blender or food processor. Pour puree through a mesh screen to remove the seeds and measure out ¼ raspberry puree. Combine the white chocolate, raspberry puree, ½ cup of heavy cream and salt in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 30-second increments, stirring every 30 seconds until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour into a large bowl and let it cool to room temperature.
While chocolate mixture is cooling whisk together gelatin and water and set aside to allow the gelatin to absorb the water and prepare the cake layers (see below).
Once the chocolate mixture has reached room temperature, microwave the bowl of gelatin 15 seconds, until it is melted. Whisk the melted gelatin and chocolate together. Whip the remaining 1 cup whipping cream into firm peaks. Fold half of the whipping cream into the chocolate mixture. Once it in incorporated, gently fold in the remaining whipped cream. You are now ready to assemble your cake.
You will need to make a 4 to 5-inch collar to place around you cake while assembling it and until fully chilled. Use an acetate cake color or create a collar using an aluminum foil or waxed paper doubled over. I generally cut up a light-weight gift box with the waxed surface against the cake. Place the first cake layer on a plate and create an 8-inch collar around it. Spread one third of the raspberry mousse on the chocolate layer and place in the freezer approximately ten minutes to set the mousse enough to support another later. Repeat process twice by placing another layer of cake followed by one third of the mousse and “setting” in the freezer another tem minutes between each mousse layer; finishing with the final rounded fourth cake layer. Refrigerate several hours or overnight until ready to serve.
To finish the cake, remove collar from chilled cake and place cake on a serving platter. Pour the chocolate ganache over the cake allowing to dribble down the sides. Heap fresh raspberries on the top – you can drizzle additional ganache over the berries if desired.
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces
½ cup heavy cream
Heat cream to a simmer and poor over chocolate pieces. Whisk together until chocolate melts and you have a smooth, shiny mixture.
To prepare cake layers - Trim off the rounded top of one cake layer to make level. Cut each cake layer horizontally to make two layers. (To cut, mark side of cake with toothpicks on all sides. Using the toothpicks as a guide, split layers horizontally using a long, thin knife.)
Greg Dunne has been a produce manager for over 30 years, all here in San Diego County. He's passionate about fruits and vegetables and enjoys his work in the produce department.