Thursday, September 17, 2009

Your Very Own Raspberry Patch

I thought since I started to write about raspberries in my last post and ended up rambling on about my own issues with managing my life, I really should post about growing raspberries. If you only grow one fruit, let it be raspberries. They are the best plant for those of us who just don’t have time to care for our plants. If you put them in well to begin with, raspberries will bear fruit for years and years without you doing anything other than cutting them down each winter. All you need is a sunny spot. Raspberries do wonderfully along the edge of a yard or against your house or barn, but you can plop them down anywhere.

Perhaps the best reason to grow your own raspberries is they are so expensive, even when they’re in season. Kids are drawn to raspberries. Despite the fact that we grow them at home, my kids beg for them at the store. They can’t resist the plastic carton filled with plump, juicy raspberries. And half the time you buy those beautiful tempting berries in the store you come home to discover they are moldy in the middle. Raspberries don’t keep well. So when they are in season you just have to eat and eat and eat them, which is also a good thing, because they are really good for you. Organic raspberries are even better for you. Commercial raspberries that have to travel a great distance to reach you must certainly be laden with preservatives and heaven knows what else, or they wouldn’t survive the journey. Another great reason to grow your own!

Raspberries are very simple to grow. I would counsel you to spend some time preparing a proper garden bed for them, but truthfully raspberries are a bit like weeds and they can generally take over a garden all on their own. I hope you’ve taken advantage of the thousands of wild raspberries that grow all over the country side. They have a sweet-sour taste while the domesticated ones are just plain sweet. I can’t get enough of the wild raspberries and regularly get up at the crack of dawn to beat the neighborhood kids to the best patch.

Plant your raspberries in a single or double row, but no more than that. Otherwise you can’t get in to the middle to pick them. Raspberries are prickly, so you don’t want to be reaching too far in to your raspberry patch to harvest your berries. I would advise that you sink a border around them at least 4 inches deep – wood, plastic, metal, something that doesn’t leach awful things in to the soil. Raspberries will send out roots and spread to kingdom come, so you need to keep them contained. You also want to keep the grass surrounding them from moving in and strangling the raspberries’ root system. I would say that raspberries can handle anything and they’re much tougher than any wimpy lawn grass out there, but I know different now, so a border is advised. If you don’t put in a border, keep an eye on the immigrants crossing over and yank them out before they become entrenched.

Your raspberries will bear fruit the first year. (I told you they’re easy!) I looked up the details on pruning in a couple of texts before I wrote this and was confused by the directions about cutting down certain canes right after harvest and the tops of others. I’m sure that if you are a master gardener or own a raspberry farm you’re up to speed on those rules, but for the rest of us, I’ll share what we do. After a good hard freeze (usually early February), we pull out the dead canes and cut the others down to about tummy level. That’s it. We have a huge harvest every year with that simple effort. I’m always about simple and easy. But if you’re more of a detail person, you can check The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch. She’s got a nice section on raspberries with details on the complicated way to prune them.

Our raspberries bear a light June crop and then a heavy September crop. It’s good to have that break in the middle because you can only eat so many raspberries. The thrill of the first raspberries is not lost on my kids and they generally eat them all up as soon as they ripen. In September the kids are pretty distracted, so I am able to pick lots and use them to bake and freeze. I don’t make jam because the fussy people I live with don’t like seeds in their jam and removing seeds from raspberry jam is just way too tedious. Every now and then someone gives me a jar of homemade raspberry jam with no seeds and I am in awe. We eat lots of fresh raspberries and freeze many bags. You freeze raspberries just like all the other berries – clean them, dry them (salad spinner works well for this – but be gentle), and spread them out on a cookie sheet. Freeze them overnight and then transfer them to plastic bags to store.

Last week I wanted to do something with the raspberries, but I wasn’t getting enough in one picking for anything fancy, so I washed the raspberries and added sugar to preserve them and kept adding more berries to the mix all week. As I said before, raspberries don’t keep well, so if you aren’t going to eat them or bake them or freeze them right after you pick them, you need to add a preservative of some kind, sugar works well for this. By the end of the week I had a big bowl of raspberry mush that tasted divine. I added a little essential lime extract (incredibly potent lime flavoring I got from a fancy gourmet store). Then I pondered what to do with it. It sat for several days while I pondered. I tasted it daily and made everyone who came by taste it and we all just sighed and said “that’s incredible”. Finally my husband couldn’t stand my dithering any longer so he threw some in a blender with ice and another potent liquid and made a rather delicious drink. I’m thinking you could also mix it up with ice cream to make a more family-friendly smoothie that would divine. Eventually I did make a decision and used the amazing raspberry concoction to make a cobbler. I mixed up some shortbread and topped the raspberries with it and baked it in the oven for 20 minutes. Oh wow – a taste of heaven with whipped cream.

Here’s my favorite raspberry recipe. It also uses sweet corn, conveniently in season at the same time. Now don’t get wiggy on me and say you can’t eat corn and raspberries together because you will totally miss out. This is way yummy.

Fresh Corn Cake with Raspberries
(Cooking Light)

1 Cup fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
6 T butter, melted and cooled
1/3 C water
2 t fresh lemon juice
2 t vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 C flour
1 ¼ C sugar
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
½ t baking soda
2 C fresh raspberries
2 T flour
1 T powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325.

1. Coat 9” cake pan with spray, line bottom with wax paper. Coat was paper with spray.
2. Combine corn and next 5 ingredients in blender or processor; process until smooth.
3. Combine flour, sugar, powder, salt and soda in large bowl; stir well with whisk. Add corn mixture to flour mixture, stirring until just combined.
4. Toss raspberries with 2 T flour; fold into batter.
5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake at 325 for 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean.
Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack.Remove from pan and carefully peel off wax paper. Cool completely.
6. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

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