Photo by Chris Casella

Fifty Shades of Red

Raspberries always play to hard to get. They ignore you, hiding under dull leaves, yet letting their finest red flirt through. With their thorny protection, you might get a couple scratches going in for the pickup, but the end result is worth it. Only in season for the blink of an eye, they are the perfect summer affair.

Whether gobbled up, still warm from the heat, as a reward for skinned knees and scratched up arms, or beautifully presented as a smooth, slightly tart sauce, raspberries are a spring rendezvous with sweet infatuation.

These delicate little poppers have been a part of our diet since Paleolithic times, but more for the medicinal quality of the leaves, which aids in digestion when dried. Lore has it that the berries were originally white, but one day Zeus’s nursemaid was traipsing through the brush on Mount Ida and pricked her finger on a thorn, thus turning the frigid white berries passion red forever. The scientific name, Rubus Idaeus, literally means “bramble bush of Ida.”

The berry has been reborn in this “superfood” generation as an elixir of life, full of antioxidants
and vitamins, folic acid and iron.

This story is just gurgling with so much sexual innuendo, it’s no wonder the Greeks also believed the raspberry symbolized fertility. Since then, raspberries have always been associated with the ladies, with the leaves also commonly used for cramp-relieving teas and to reduce labor pains during childbirth.

Today, divorced from its lofty ancient perch, raspberries have been downgraded to blue syrup squirted atop shaved ice, and the name we give to that horrible fart-sounding lip attack that scars babies for life. On the other hand, the berry has recently been reborn in this “superfood” generation as an elixir of life, full of antioxidants and vitamins, folic acid and iron. They also have a special ketone that, anecdotally, helps with weight loss.

But beyond all the folklore and the health benefits, raspberries are yummy—even though they stain your fingers red and leave you picking those bratty little seeds out of your teeth for hours. Some are so sweet you can only eat a few; others, so sour your mouth puckers. Always a treat for kids, running barefoot and picking at neighborhood bushes, raspberries also hold court on more adult menus.

We tend to think raspberries equal dessert, but at Wildflower Café in Clintonville, the berries turn to the savory side when blended into a barbeque sauce to balance the saline tendencies of pork chops. Raspberries are also used to tame heat in various local salsas, such as Montezuma Smoky Chipotle and Raspberry Lime, while Cajohns tosses ’em into a vodka-BBQ sauce.

However, we all know raspberries really preen in the dessert aisle. From the classic after-dinner Linzer Tart at which newbie Laughlin’s Bakery excels, to Lindey’s brunch beignets served with Kahlua hot fudge and a raspberry coulis, to a simple dish of fresh berries with whipped cream—raspberry’s claret color and spring blush flavor is hard to miss and easy to celebrate.

Hard to get all year long, fresh raspberries are now ripe for the taking.