Last summer our local supermarket featured a week-long special on raspberries: 99 cents a half-pint, a limit of six boxes per customer. Now 99 cents for what amounts to two fistfuls of berries doesn't sound like such a bargain compared to the strawberries and blueberries bountifully displayed in season.
Raspberries are special in my family, however, relished and fought over by my children as if each iridescent berry were a delectable piece of candy.
So nearly every day for a week, my husband and children took their evening stroll to the all-too-conveniently located supermarket to buy raspberries.
We ate them unembellished, just popping them into our mouths. By week's end, however, when I opened the refrigerator and saw yet another box of raspberries, I realized we had done the nearly impossible: we had had our fill. So I sprinkled an extravagant handful on my morning cereal and sighed.
Let me assure you, though, that should the same supermarket offer the same promotion this summer, we will again be making our daily pilgrimage to buy the berries.
Raspberries have earned (and certainly deserve) their reputation as the most elegant of berries. Strawberries and blueberries, while delightful in their own countrified manner, simply don't compare. Part of the allure of raspberries is that even when local berries are available (as they are now) they are never inexpensive. On the other hand, what price perfection?
Accounting for their cost is the fact that raspberries are extremely perishable and bruise very easily. Once the raspberries are damaged, mold sets in quickly, says Denise Sharp, regional horticultural specialist for the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service. Because of their fragility, the berries must be hand picked, adding to the price.
Despite this, the good news is that it takes just a few of these sparkling berries to brighten a dull dish of ice cream. Or perhaps to scatter over waffles, mix into pancakes and, of course, sprinkle on breakfast cereal.
One of my favorite instant desserts is to layer in a wine goblet a slice of pound cake and a scoop of fruit ice or sorbet under crushed raspberries. Serve with fancy store-bought cookies and it's a dessert guests will remember. (Just pray they don't ask for the recipe.) Pale yellow pineapple sorbet is a pretty choice topped with the raspberries, but raspberry sorbet is also a good. After all, how could you go wrong with raspberries on raspberries?
Besides eating the berries plain, the classic option is a bowl of raspberries topped with heavy cream. (No, there is not a low-fat version with skim milk. Sorry.) Raspberries and cream can be taken one step further with Layered Raspberry Almond Cream -- a recipe that includes cream, cream cheese, mint and Amaretto -- from "Fresh Fruit Desserts: Classic and Contemporary" by Sheryl and Mel London.
Another variation on the berries-and-cream theme is a pie from Lynne Wilson, of Wilson's Farm in Lexington, Mass. It takes a good thing and makes it better.
And if you still don't think berries befit breakfast, try raspberry streusel muffins from "The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. They'll change your mind. One can never be too elegant or have too many raspberries, even at breakfast.
At least I don't think one can.
LAYERED RASPBERRY ALMOND CREAM (4 servings)
4 ounces cream cheese, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons Amaretto
1/2 cup fine sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 to 2 cups fresh raspberries
4 sprigs fresh mint
Put the cream cheese, Amaretto and sugar into the bowl of a food processor and process until combined. Slowly pour the cream through the feed tube while the processor is on. The mixture should have the consistency of stiffly whipped cream.
Using wine goblets or glass dessert dishes, distribute 1 cup of the raspberries among the 4 glasses, and spoon in equal amounts of the almond cream. Stud the surface with the remaining raspberries and garnish each portion with a sprig of fresh mint.
Per serving: 340 calories, 3 gm protein, 34 gm carbohydrates, 21 gm fat, 13 gm saturated fat, 72 mg cholesterol, 97 mg sodium.
From "Fresh Fruit Desserts" By Sheryl and Mel London (Prentice Hall Press, 1990) LYNNE WILSON'S RASPBERRY AND CREAM PIE (8 servings)
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell (recipe follows)
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
4 cups fresh raspberries
Blend the flour, sugar, cream and cinnamon with a wire whisk or fork. Put the raspberries in a large mixing bowl and pour the cream mixture over them. Stir gently to coat the raspberries. Spoon the raspberries and cream mixture into the pie shell. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for approximately 40 minutes or until set. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.
Leftover pie (if there is any!) should be refrigerated.
Per serving: 410 calories, 4 gm protein, 45 gm carbohydrates, 25 gm fat, 11 gm saturated fat, 51 mg cholesterol, 214 mg sodium.
From "The Wilson Farm Country Cookbook" by Lynne C. Wilson (Addison-Wesley) PIE CRUST (Makes 9-inch crust)
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 1/2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
Approximately 3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
Using a fork, stir the flour and salt together. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles very coarse cornmeal. Stir in the ice water with a fork, a tablespoon at a time, until the pastry holds together.
Press into a ball; chill for 30 minutes.
Roll out on a lightly floured surface and place in a pie plate. Fit the pastry loosely into the pie plate and trim the edges.
Per crust: 1,261 calories, 15 gm protein, 110 gm carbohydrates, 85 gm fat, 21 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1,602 mg sodium.
From "The Wilson Farm Country Cookbook" RASPBERRY STREUSEL MUFFINS (Makes 12 muffins)
FOR THE BATTER:
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup milk
1 1/4 cups fresh raspberries
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
FOR THE STREUSEL TOPPING:
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine, melted
FOR THE GLAZE:
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
To make the muffin batter, sift the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together into a medium-sized bowl and make a well in the center.
Place the beaten egg, melted butter and milk in the well. Stir with a wooden spoon just until ingredients are combined. Quickly stir in the raspberries and lemon zest. Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full with the batter.
To make the streusel topping, combine the pecans, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and lemon zest in a small bowl. Pour in the melted butter and stir to combine. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the top of each muffin.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until nicely browned and firm, 20 to 25 minutes.
To make the glaze, mix the sugar and lemon juice. Drizzle over the warm muffins with a spoon. Serve warm.
Per muffin: 278 calories, 3 gm protein, 38 gm carbohydrates, 14 gm fat, 7 gm saturated fat, 50 mg cholesterol, 213 mg sodium.
From "The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman)
Lisa Braun-Kenigsburg is a Washington-based freelance writer.