Summertime screams berry season! With their sweet, juicy flavour, very few diners won’t be tempted by fresh berries on your menu. Berry season starts with strawberries and blueberries in late spring, finishing with blackberries in autumn.
The botanical definition of “berry” refers to a flower which develops an edible fleshy fruit – think grapes, tomatoes and even cucumbers, eggplants and chilli.
And fruit we’d commonly refer to as “berries” are not, including strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. But, hey, we’re chefs not botanists, and berries on the menu are a great summer addition...it's what our diners understand that is important!
In Roman times, strawberries were a symbol of love due to their heart shape. One of the most popular fruits in the world, strawberries are a great signal of warmer weather with the first fruit to ripen in spring taking only two weeks to mature from flower to fruit.
Sweet and juicy strawberries are best eaten raw, although when baked their perfumed flavour is intensified. Those that may not be the prettiest or have got a little overripe are
perfect for cooking with, stewed or turned into jam or coulis. The classic topping on pavlova or meringues, sweet juicy strawberries with their slight tart edge complement the classic Chantilly cream with the added bonus of looking very festive. Really give your desserts or cabinet sweets a boost with long stemmed strawberries dipped in chocolate – dark, milk or white, take your pick.
Big, juicy strawberries work in many places you would use raw tomatoes, and, like tomatoes, they pair beautifully with flavours like basil and balsamic. Instead of the classic Caprese salad with tomatoes, try strawberries. Set the sliced strawberries and mozzarella on a dollop of reduced balsamic and drizzle with a basil oil, before topping with freeze dried balsamic for some crunch. Garnish with beautiful micro basil for a completely new take on a classic. Strawberries pair well with other berries and fruit like apple, banana, kiwifruit, pears, rhubarb, mango and citrus. Herbs that work particularly well with strawberries include mint, basil and coriander.
In savoury dishes, creamy, soft cheese, like mozzarella, feta and chèvre, are the perfect match for strawberries.
Oats, and nuts, like pistachio, walnut and cashews, along with proteins, like chicken and pork, make great partners for strawberries. Flavours like honey, vanilla and balsamic, along with cinnamon, cardamom and chilli bring out various flavour profiles in strawberries.
In cocktail form, strawberries mix best with brandy, Champagne, Chartreuse, elderflower liqueur, rum, sake, and red, rosé, and sweet white wine.
Strawberry season starts in November and traditionally goes through to February, although an increasing number of tunnel houses means the season now stretches through to late autumn.
Blueberries are native to North America and Eastern Asia.
High in antioxidants and fibre along with potassium, folate and vitamins C and B6, they are considered one of nature’s superfoods and have grown in popularity in recent years, reflecting a growing interest in health and wellbeing.
Classic dishes like blueberry muffins and pie will always be popular, but there is more you can do with this little blue (well, actually, purple) berry.
Match blueberries with other berries, citrus (particularly orange), figs, peaches and spinach. Flavours like ginger, honey, lavender, lemon verbena and coriander are perfect partners.
Big fluffy pancakes taste and look stunning served with a generous dollop of blueberry coulis. Or take a classic lemon cake and add blueberries.
Add blueberries to baby greens like kale or spinach, and pair with some salty cheese, like feta, to have a delicious and complex textured salad. Grilled peaches and blueberries tossed in vinaigrette are also delicious, with toasted walnuts and a tangy cheese like Manchego.
Or try combining blueberry with beetroot for a stunning bruschetta topping with a striking colour and flavour.
Muddle blueberries with mint to get extra flavour and a beautiful hue to your drinks, either sparkling water and sweet wine for a summer spritzer or with white rum and lime for a blueberry mojito.
Blackberries go particularly well with late summer/autumn fruit like peaches and apples, think apple and blackberry pie. Like most berries, blackberries are delicious with creamy products, like yoghurt, ice cream, custard, cream and mascarpone as well as soft cheese, like feta, chèvre and blue cheese. Blackberries’ dark, earthy flavours are enhanced with spices like black pepper, cinnamon, ginger and cloves along with vanilla, white chocolate, white wine vinegar and honey. Blackberries lend themselves to more savoury dishes than most berries, working well with chicken and pork and salads with bitter leaves.
Raspberries are part of the rose family and originated in Eastern Asia.
Along with the fruit, raspberry leaves are edible, most commonly made into teas and often used for their medicinal properties to soothe the digestive system and to help soothe menstrual cramps.
Raspberries pair well with other berries and summer fruits like watermelon, apricots, nectarines, peaches (think peach melba). Match with almonds in a raspberry and frangipane tart or with hazelnuts and chocolate. Flavours like vanilla, star anise, cinnamon and cloves will all go beautifully with raspberries as does herbs like mint, basil and thyme.
Mix with vinegar to make delicious dressings or combine with Champagne, dark rum, tequila or sweet red wines to make a boozy cocktail for your seasonal drinks specials.
Raspberries’ delicate flavour are complimented with creamy dairy varieties, including ricotta, mascarpone, buttermilk and cream cheese. Make a creamy mousse, top a cheesecake or set on top of a panna cotta. If raspberries have one downside it is their tiny little seeds, so remember, if making a sauce, coulis, jelly or the like, your dishes will be enhanced greatly if sieved to remove these!
Boysenberries were named after Californian Rudolph Boysen who “discovered” the plant in 1920. Walter Knott named the plant and sold boysenberries in his roadside stall, along with pies and preserves. This went on to become Knotts Berry Farm Amusement Park with roller coaster rides and water slides – “America’s first amusement park”.
Boysenberries’ plump, reddish-purple fruit can be used like most other berries, enjoyed in creamy based desserts and go particularly well in or with yoghurt and ice cream. They pair beautifully with citrus flavours (particularly lemon) and are well matched with coconut, hazelnut, cardamom, cinnamon, Fino sherry and rum. Boysenberries, which are slightly sweeter than blackberries, are often made into juice and purees which have multiple applications. Like blackberries, they also lend beautifully to savoury dishes and work well with beef, venison, lamb as well as chicken and pork, enhanced with flavours like black pepper, rosemary and thyme. Cook down with beef stock to make a boysenberry jus or toss through a salad with tart goats’ cheese and smoked chicken. Make into a savoury chutney, perfect on an antipasto platter or a porkburger.