Raspberries are one of the most misunderstood fruits. All too often they arrive as pallid, overpriced creatures packed into plastic pints. What they lack in taste they make up for in girth, hardly a fair trade-off. The result: I rarely buy raspberries.
When I go to North Carolina though, it’s a different story. Our house there is on top of a mountain, and walks into town entail meandering past a gurgling spring, through canopies of trees and rhododendron that shield you from the afternoon sun, and the occasional rain shower. All along these jaunts eyes scan for telltale flashes of red amongst the foliage. It becomes something of a game, finding raspberries, and a short walk to the creek or into town can stretch into hours with all pit stops to eat berries right from the bush.
Galileo once said, “The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.” In North Carolina, the same is true of raspberries.
typical berry bush
Of course, as with most things worth going after, there is a bit of work involved. Raspberries seem to rarely grow in easy to reach spots. Usually, the best bushes are perched precariously on steep mountain grades, their berries beckoning like sirens on a rocky shore. And who can resist? Yet once you make up your mind to go after them and start making your way carefully up, or down, to them and hoping not to fall to your death, you find that the steep terrain is the least of your worries. Raspberries have thorns. Thorns! So when you start falling down the mountain and reach for the first thing you can to catch yourself, you are going to get a handful of thorns. You will yell and curse and wonder what the heck you are doing. The headline Woman falls to death in pursuit of fruit is going to look mighty silly.
The first berries I pick never make it to my bucket/bowl/tennis ball can. No, these go straight into my mouth. Their sun-warmed ripeness, that burst of sweet and tart, gives me the courage to go on. Because there is nothing better tasting than a fresh-picked raspberry on a hot summer afternoon. Most of Mother Nature’s gifts need to be washed, trimmed, or cooked before enjoyed. But there are a precious few that need no adornment. Oysters are one of these. Raspberries are another.
Given this, if seems almost a miracle when I’ve accumulated a few precious cups of berries. I bring them home triumphantly, rinse them in my grandmother’s berry bowl and hide them in the back of the fridge where no one will find them. Sometimes I add a sign that says “DO NOT TOUCH” even though I know full well that anyone who finds the bowl won’t listen. Raspberries are hard to resist, especially minus the thorns.
When it comes to making dessert with them, I tend to tread lightly. Too much of anything would be gilding the lily, and the whole point is to preserve and enhance something that’s almost perfect to begin with. The answer: fool, a simple mix of fruit and cream.
No one knows why fool is called fool. I speculate that it’s because the dessert is so easy to make even a fool could do it. The traditional fool recipe contains gooseberries, but I wouldn’t know a gooseberry if it smacked me in the head (I’m something of a fool too, I suppose), so I chose to improvise. Given the simplicity, a fool seems like the perfect treatment for a few cups of berries. I garnished my fool with Biscoff cookies (you know, the ones they serve on Delta flights?) If you can’t find Biscoff, some Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies would do the trick, or the butter cookie of your choice.
Use the freshest, best berries you can find: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries… you get the idea.
3 cups raspberries, plus a half cup to garnish
¼ cup, plus 4 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla
2 cups heavy whipping cream
Butter cookies to garnish (optional)
Combine berries and 1/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Use a whisk or spoon to mash the berries into the sugar. While the berries heat, whip the cream with 4 Tablespoons of sugar and a Tablespoon of vanilla until it holds a firm peak. Be careful not to over-whip. Fold the berry mixture into the whipped cream and chill. Serve in individual cups, garnishing with fresh berries and a cookie, if desired.