Berry by name but not by nature, there is a difference between everyday usage and the botanical use of the word.
Commonly, the term berry refers to any small, soft-fleshed and usually stoneless fruit. Botanically speaking, however, a berry is a small fleshy fruit that has mature seeds dispersed throughout its flesh. This includes many berries-by-name, grapes and, surprisingly, cucumber, banana, citrus fruit and papaya. It also excludes fruits commonly known as berries, including blackberries and raspberries, which are clusters of little fruits with stones.
The Rubus genus, part of the rose family, includes blackberries, raspberries and Scandinavia’s golden cloudberry. Blackberries range from red to black and are in season from late December to January. Considered a weed in much of Australia due to their rampant growth, they’re cooked in pies, crumbles and cakes, and preserved in jellies and syrup.
Raspberries are delicate and need a cool climate. They grow best in Tasmania or high-country areas of Australia, and range from black to red or golden yellow. They’re perfect simply dusted with caster sugar, with double cream, cooked in pies, cakes and tarts, preserved in jams and jellies and in sauces. They’re in season from late November to February, and also in autumn from March to April.
Blackberries and raspberries have also been used to create hybrids, such as boysenberry, loganberry and youngberry.
Blueberries can be cooked in cakes, puddings, sauces, jams and dried, and are in season from September to March.
Cranberries only grow in the northern hemisphere and require a very cold winter. They are prized for their high vitamin C content and antioxidants. When processing cranberries – into juice, sauces, jelly, dried fruit – sugar is usually added to counteract their high acidity and sourness. Unprocessed cranberries are available fresh-frozen in Australia. White cranberries are less acidic, as they’re harvested before fully ripening.
Mulberries are a part of the Moraceae family, which includes figs. Unlike other berries, they grow on a small tree, often found in Australian backyards. The fruit is either black or white: black are used for desserts, jams, wine and cordial; white are mainly grown for their green leaves, used to feed silkworms. In season from October to February, mulberries aren’t grown commercially in huge quantities as they tend to deteriorate quickly and are difficult to harvest.
Currants and gooseberries, native to the northern hemisphere, vary in colour from white to red and black, the latter having the most intense flavour and prized for its high vitamin C. Blackcurrants are used in cordials, liqueurs (crème de cassis, for example), syrups, jams, jellies and other desserts. Redcurrants are lower in vitamin C, while white currants are sweeter than red. Currants are grown in small quantities in Australia, mainly in Tasmania and Victoria, with a brief season from December to January.
Gooseberries ripen slowly, needing a cold winter and a cool summer. Scotland and Tasmania provide the best conditions for gooseberries. They taste quite tart, and are great in desserts and jellies as sugar enhances the flavour. They’re in season from December to January.
Strawberries are possibly the most popular berries. They’re best served simply with cream, or used to make jam, sauces, ice-cream, cakes and tarts. They are grown year-round in Australia: in winter in Queensland and in summer in Australia’s southern regions. Their peak season is from September to January.
How to buy, store…
If possible, berries are best picked straight from the bush, vine or tree as is now possible in many areas of Australia. Otherwise choose berries which are unblemished and have no signs of mould or juice, and have a sweet fragrance. Store in the refrigerator unwashed until needed and bring to room temperature before eating. They keep for three days to a week, depending on the berry.
Best eaten fresh in salads, or macerated in a little sugar and alcohol. Berries are also used for cooking in cakes, tarts and puddings, and puréed for ice-creams, sorbets, sauces and milkshakes.
*For a blackberry tart, line tartlet tins with puff pastry and bake blind. Mix ricotta, brown sugar, toasted slivered almonds and orange rind, spoon into tartlet shells and top with blackberries. Serve dusted with icing sugar.
*For a raspberry fool, whisk thickened cream and icing sugar to soft peaks, purée raspberries and fold through cream and serve in a glass with crisp biscuits such as langue de chat.
*For a mulberry royale, purée mulberries with sugar to taste, strain, then spoon into flutes, add orange liqueur to taste and top with Champagne.
*For a blueberry and mango salad, combine blueberries, chopped mango and finely chopped mint. Combine honey with rum, stir to dissolve honey and drizzle over fruit. Serve with vanilla ice-cream.
*For poached gooseberries, combine equal quantities of caster sugar, water and orange rind in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add berries, return to a simmer, then cool. Serve with double cream.
Berries go with
Almonds, balsamic vinegar, brandy, chocolate, cream, crème fraîche, custard, fresh cheese, honey, ice-cream, kirsch, lemon, orange, orange liqueurs, pastry, rosewater, tokay, vanilla, wine.