Babies on Board By Heidi Lewis
Oh de bitty babies, so cherubic in their little baskets. Heavenly creatures, berries were flowers before they incarnated into sweet gems that dance on our tongues. Berries are the babies of summer, triggering synapses and opening pathways to good memories. They’re the delicate fruit that are most often anthropomorphized by the great children’s illustrators like Elsa Beskow and Tasha Tudor. As summer berries are so perishable and fleeting, poets too turn to them for their poignancy: “The merry year is born, like the bright berry from the naked thorn,” wrote Hartley Coleridge.
Botanically, the moniker “berry” really covers most fruit. As long as it’s produced from a single ovary and has seeds and pulp, it’s a berry. That’s everything from bananas to grapes to watermelon. A drupe is a single-seeded fruit, like peaches, cherries, and plums. Aggregate fruits consist of a bunch of drupes together, like raspberries and blackberries—teeny tiny clusters of many berries. Strawberries, not technically berries, are called “accessory fruits,” where the edible part is not generated by the ovary.
Berries are as varied and regional as wild flowers. Many people have their favorites for foraging on country excursions or hikes. Varieties include salmonberries, currants, and cloudberries, which prefer the chill in the North. Black mulberries grow well in the South, while huckleberries grow in the Northwest. Many of these resist commercial growing as they are very perishable but can be found locally. Blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries do the best when harvesting commercially. The FruitGuys often places cold packs next to delicates like blueberries and raspberries; after delivery, berries should be transferred to refrigeration as soon as possible.
Before we had fruits like citrus available to us, berries were our major source of vitamin C. Native Americans dried berries for winter stores and used wild strawberries in bread—the first strawberry shortcake. The beautiful colors in berries are due to their rich concentration of anthocyanins, which have been shown to have numerous health benefits. Also, pectin in fruit such as berries has been noted for its prebiotic values and decreasing LDL cholesterol.
Not much improves on fresh berries, but when baked into clafoutis, crisps, or tarts with a little sugar, they can be wonderful. Whipped into heavy cream or fool is also quiet heavenly.