Mary Ann Castronovo Fusco

The Star Ledger

Rah-rah for raspberries

The days are still warm and sunny, so it may be premature to be thinking in terms of crimson and gold. But the timing’s just right if you’re a raspberry fan.

Both red and yellow varieties of the luscious fruit are ripe for the picking at area farms, where the recent growing conditions are giving raspberry fans something to cheer about. “The dry situation means the rot threat is negligible,” explained Gary Pavlis, a small fruit specialist with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County.

American consumers have become accustomed to picking up a clear plastic container of ruby red raspberries — from the west coast or the southern hemisphere, depending on the time of year — whenever they want. “How they pick them and ship them cross-country, I don’t know. If a berry’s picked over two days, it is already deteriorating,” said Dan Adickes of Mountain Top Orchard in Glen Gardner, who grows Anne, a yellow raspberry, and Autumn Britten, a red.

“When you can get the local ones, the flavor is a completely different thing. It’s more of a true raspberry flavor,” said Andre deWaal, chef-owner of Andre’s Restaurant and Wine Boutique in Newton. “I like to use the local ones when they’re in season.”

Large commercial growers typically don’t plant yellow raspberries because “the yield usually is less and those big companies want yield,” said Pavlis. At the Paterson Farmers’ Market where Adickes sells his raspberries, he finds that “most people don’t know what (the yellow ones) are because they haven’t seen them.”

Although he says his red raspberries have good flavor, he prefers the taste of his golden Annes, which he considers “more complex” than that of the red berries and evocative of black raspberries (not to be confused with blackberries), which typically ripen in summer. Some have described the taste of yellow raspberries as “apricoty.” Besides Anne, Fall Gold, Kiwi Gold and Goldie are other yellow raspberries that can be found at local farms. But the most commonly planted raspberry is Heritage, a red.

Belonging to the rose family, raspberries grow on upright, thornless canes. Each fruit is actually a cluster of drupelets, or tiny fruits with stones. Technically known as primocanes, fall-bearing raspberries often are referred to as ever-bearing, because they can produce a crop in early summer as well as in the fall. But many growers give up the first crop by mowing down the canes in late winter to promote spring growth and a more abundant fall crop.

When ripe, raspberries easily detach from their white conical inner core, or receptacle, which remains on the stem, leaving the berry hollow. Locally grown fall raspberries should be available until frost.

Savvy chefs use the lightly acidic sweet-tart taste of raspberries to balance starchy ingredients in salads and desserts and fatty meats in savory dishes. At his restaurant, deWaal adds pureed raspberries to raspberry vinaigrette served over a duck confit salad.

Come dessert, he folds fresh raspberries into chiboust, a pastry cream lightened with whipped egg whites, and spreads the mixture over a sweet tart shell. “When we get the gold ones, I like to mix them with the red raspberries to serve fresh,” he added. Three cheers for the crimson and gold.

Nutrition notes: Raspberries are high in antioxidants, fiber, vitamin C, folate, and cancer-fighting ellagic acid. They also are a good source of quercetin and anthocyanins, which can help slow the effects of aging, strengthen vision, and improve circulation.

Why do they cost so much? Unlike blueberries, which can be harvested six times faster than raspberries because they can be rolled off their stems a cluster a time, raspberries must be individually picked. Because they’re hollow, they’re also more fragile than most other berries.

Fun fact: According to ancient myth, raspberries were used to soothe the cries of the infant Zeus on the slopes of his boyhood home of Mount Ida, where they grew wild.

Raspberry freeze: Carefully rinse the fruit. Dry it on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. Gently shake the pan so excess water drains from the fruit as it rolls. If necessary, gently pat dry. Place the berries in a plastic storage bag, seal, and freeze. Or, keep the berries on the cookie sheet and freeze; then place the frozen berries in a plastic storage container, seal, and return to the freezer.

Get yours fresh: For a list of farms that grow raspberries, visit the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Jersey Fresh website, state.nj.us/jerseyfresh/searches/pyo.htm, and the NJ Farm Bureau’s website, njfb.org. Always call first to confirm availability.