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It’s hard to say exactly what exactly constitutes a berry and what doesn’t. Though some botanists classify a tomato as a berry, the US supreme court ruled that they were vegetables.
Botanical definitions of “berry” include examining whether the seeds of the fruit developed from a single ovary, or whether, as in the case of raspberries, the fruit is actually a collection of very small fruits all grown together in one cluster, and therefore not actually a berry at all.
The botanical definitions, while interesting, really aren’t going to fly with the market vendors on Saturday. So, here’s another one: small soft fruits, whether their composition is a single fruit or an aggregate of very small fruits, such as raspberries, blackberries or mulberries. May contain seeds, usually edible, but won’t contain any pits or stones.
When buying fresh berries, look at the bottom of the container they have come in: if the container is clear, look for crushed ones (avoid that container); if it is a cardboard container, look for juice stains (which means there are crushed berries at the bottom.)
When using frozen berries, be prepared for them to give off more juice than fresh ones: you may need to cut back a bit on the liquid in your recipe to compensate.
1 punnet of berries equals a pint basket of berries.
Don’t wash berries until you are ready to use, because dampness will accelerate mould growth.
Try to store your berries laid out shallow on a plate, rather than heaped up in deep bowls, so that the ones at the bottom won’t get squished by the weight of the other ones on top. Cover with paper towel.
Strawberries are pretty much the only berries that won’t really hold their shape when frozen and thawed.
Literature & Lore
“Rejoice, the berries have come! A sigh for one that has gone—the strawberry of firm red flesh and gay green cap, most delicious berry of them all, if you agree with Elizabethan Dr. Butler, who held that ‘Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.’
Maybe God didn’t, but the scientists have been very busy since that long ago, and the perfect blueberry is the work of man. Blueberries are right in their season now and right in their element, cradled in meringue shells which you can buy at the bakers. Or eat the big blues just as they are, wading knee-deep in cream.
It’s the red raspberry which would be queen of berries if we had the crowning to do. These berries with orblike cups, each tiny drupelet swollen with juice, should never be defiled by heat’s wanton touch.
This queen of berries is attended to market by a retinue of lesser dignitaries. Come the ‘brambles,’ the ancient name for blackberries and their little brothers, the dewberries. Here are gooseberries, the big fat hairy ambers brought here first by the English settlers. Here’s their kin, the juicy currants, loganberries, huckleberries, all marching to town. The wheels of refrigerated trucks and trains turn quickly and the blackberry roll, the red currant pudding, the blueberry tarts, gladden the menu. Welcome July, dripping berry ambrosia!”1
Sharp Taste: Why do plants with berries often have thorns? Aren’t such plants sending mixed messages? Why would they want to repel animals that would eat their berries and spread their seeds?
“I have found that larger animals, such as horses, prefer to eat the stems of plants that product berries, thus damaging the structure of the plant. Thorns are a helpful deterrent. Creatures that prefer the berries and do not damage the rest of the plant, such as birds and insects, are able to bypass the thorns to eat the berries and help spread the seeds. Cordelia Moore, Ashurst Wood, West Sussex, UK.’
“The messages aren’t mixed: the plants are saying, ‘eat my fruit, not my leaves.’ Most animals that benefit the plant by eating fruit and dispersing seeds are dexterous enough not to hurt themselves. A bigger, clumsier herbivore might not bother separating fruit from foliage, but if the latter came with a mouthful of thorns, the animal might think again… Stephen C. Fry, Professor of Plant Biochemistry School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, UK.”2
Berry can also be used as a verb, as in “the children are out berrying”, meaning to collect berries.
Paddleford, Clementine (1898 – 1967). Food Flashes Column. Gourmet Magazine. July 1946. ↩
New Scientist. Volume 229, Issue 3058, 30 January 2016, Pages 57. ↩