MY FRIEND, George, had the woods next to his house cleared several years ago. The house he planned to build there never did materialize, but he now has the best raspberry patch in Albemarle County. Raspberries, you see, are weeds: clear a space and they grow into it. Each plant sends out roots in all directions, from which new plants burst every spring until they fill every bit of sunlit space. They can be a plague, like any other weed, but every cloud has a silver lining and every raspberry bush yields a basket of luscious berries.
George is not unhappy with the situation, and harvests a bumper crop of sweet red berries which he jells or freezes. His only complaint about this gift from Mother Nature is that the birds like to eat the berries, too.
If these berries are so bountiful and easy to grow, why do they cost so much in the market? A tiny basket that hardly serves two people will cost about $2 at the height of the season; and out of season, restaurants pay $8 to $12 for the same miserly pasteboard tray. The answer lies with the berry itself.The true raspberry, unlike our native blackberry, leaves the receptacle or stem on the bush when the berry is picked. Each berry is made of many drupelets forming a hollow ball. These drupelets fall apart easily once the berry is picked, leaving an unappetizing mess of crushed berries. Grocers who carry raspberries will only stock a few, knowing that they must all be sold at the end of the day or be counted a loss.
Cultivated raspberries are grown on berry farms where huge machines are used to shake the bush and collect them for jams and jellies. The berries for sale in markets, however, must be picked by hand because of their fragile nature. Some of today's raspberry bushes have even been bred to have no thorns, a real boon to the picker.
In buying raspberries, look for bright color and firm shape. Avoid berries that look wet and are in stained containers. Be sure to refrigerate your berries as soon as possible. Frozen raspberries are good in many but not all recipes.
Raspberries blend well with chocolate, able to hold their own against that strong flavor: Consider the Raspberry Velours, a velvety rich dark chocolate cake base with mounds of raspberries and whipped cream. The entire melange is hidden by leaves of chocolate almond praline. The berries are equally magnificent in a parfait of whipped chocolate cream with whole berries and raspberry puree. No less interesting is a chocoloate marzipan tart topped with a thick layer of whole raspberries held in place by melted red currant jelly. Or if you can't wait for dinner, have raspberry syrup on your waffles or a raspberry and pecan quick bread with morning coffee. Whichever way you decide to enjoy raspberries, decide it soon; their time is brief. RASPBERRY VELOURS (8 to 10 servings) 1 pound semi-sweet chocolate 4 eggs, separated 1 tablespoon water 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 tablespoon flour 1 tablespoon sugar 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons soft unsalted butter 1 cup heavy cream 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar 1 cup red raspberries 1/2 cup sugar 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1/4 cup water 1/2 cup whole almonds with skins 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place the 1 pound of chocolate in the top of a double boiler over very hot water. The water should not be boiling. Remove the double boiler from the heat, cover, and allow the chocolate to melt very slowly. It should take about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks with the water, vanilla, flour and sugar. Beat in the soft butter to make a light fluffy mixture. When the chocolate has melted and then cooled a little, stir it into the egg and butter mixture. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold them into the chocolate mixture. Butter and line an 8-inch springform pan with parchment or waxed paper. Pour the mixture into the pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the door slightly ajar (place the handle of a wooden spoon in the oven door). Leave the cake in the oven until the oven is cold. Place the cake in the freezer and leave it there for at least 1 hour or until you are ready to use it.
Whip the cream and sweeten it with the confectioners' sugar. Have the raspberries ready.
Mix the 1/2 cup sugar in a heavy 1 quart saucepan with the lemon juice and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil. Do not stir after the sugar is dissolved. Boil until the sugar turns a medium amber color (the color of a beer bottle). Quickly add the almonds and spread on a buttered cookie sheet. Allow to cool completely. Use a hammer to break into pieces. Grind in a meat grinder or process with the steel blade of a food processor until fine. Melt the 12 ounces of chocolate and add 1/2 cup of the almond praline to it.
Have 10 pieces of waxed paper 10-by-10-inches ready. Place 5 pieces on a counter top. Divide the chocolate-praline mixture equally on the 5 pieces of paper. Place another piece of paper on top of the chocolate puddles. Use a rolling pin very lightly to spread the chocolate into an oval about 8 inches long and 4 inches wide. Chill the chocolate leaves in the refrigerator until just before serving time. When you are ready to serve the velours, remove cake from freezer and mound whipped cream and raspberries on it. Peel the top layer of paper away from the chocolate, and press each oval againt the edge of the cake. Allow the petals to make a peak over the top of the cake. This peak will collapse in 3 or 4 minutes, making it easier to cut the cake. CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY PARFAIT (10 servings) 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate 2 cups heavy cream 2 cups raspberries 1/2 cup sugar 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (optional) 2 tablespoons chocolate shot or grated chocolate
Place the semi-sweet chocolate and 1/2 cup of the cream in the top of a double boiler and slowly melt the chocolate, stirring as it melts. When the chocolate is melted, allow it to cool to lukewarm and fold into the remaining heavy cream. Chill the chocolate cream for at least 30 minutes or until it is cold. Place in a chilled bowl and whip as you would whipped cream. Fold 1 cup of raspberries in the chocolate cream. Spoon into the parfait glasses and chill. Place the remaining cup of raspberries in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Strain out the seeds. Stir in the sugar and optional of liqueur. Top each parfait with 2 tablespoons of raspberry puree and sprinkle with a little chocolate shot. RASPBERRY TART A LA PARISIENNE (8 servings) 1 1/2 cups flour 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar 1/2 cup butter 2 eggs, separated, plus 1 egg yolk 2 tablespoons water 1 teaspoons lemon zest 7 ounces almond paste 2 tablespoons brandy 1 cup heavy cream 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate 2 pints raspberries 1 cup red currant jelly Whipped cream, optional
Place the flour and 1/4 cup sugar in the bowl of your electric mixer or food processor. Slice the butter and ad it to the bowl. Mix well until like cornmeal. If you want to do this by hand, use your fingers to incorporate the butter into the flour. In a small bowl, mix the 1 egg yolk with the water and lemon zest. Ad the yolk mixture to the flour. Mix until it forms a ball. Roll and use to line a 9-inch pie tin or tart pan. Or press into place with your finger. Set aside in a cool place.
Mix the almond paste with the 2 remaining egg yolks and brandy until it is smooth. Add the cream to the almond mixture. Melt the chocolate over hot water. Stir it into the almond mixture. Whip the egg whites with 2 tablespoons sugar to the stiff peak stage and fold them into the almond mixture. Fill the pie shell or tart pan with the mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool. Top with the raspberries. Melt the currant jelly in a heavy pan and carefully spoon it over the raspberries. This will glaze the berries and hold them in place. Garnish with whipped cream if you wish. RASPBERRY PECAN BREAKFAST BREAD (1 loaf) 1 1/2 cups flour 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1 cup sugar 1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries or 10 ounces frozen raspberries, thawed 2 eggs, beaten 2/3 cup vegetable oil 2/3 cup chopped pecans Confectioners' sugar (optional)
Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Actually, I find it easier to mix the dry ingredients with a whisk. Mix the raspberries with the eggs and oil. Stir into the dry mixture until the flour is just dampened. If you overmix, the bread becomes tough. Add the pecans and stir briefly. Pour into a 9-inch buttered and floured loaf pan. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 1 hour Serve the bread hot with butter or sift confectioners' sugar on the top and serve cold. RASPBERRY VINEGAR FOR SUMMER SALADS 1 cup raspberries 4 cups white wine vinegar
Mix the raspberries with the sugar, slightly crushing the berries. Pour the vinegar over and place in a dark cool spot for a week. Strain. Use with a light oil or walnut oil on tender greens.