How to use summer berries (+ recipes)
When we were kids, our summer holidays always involved a family trip up to the berry farms around Otaki and Levin, to pick berries for my mother's annual jam production. There was one roadside stall that sold fresh bowls of strawberries and cream, and this was our sole motivation as kids to get in the car and make the hour-long trip to the berry fields with our parents.
The ride itself was bad enough. Dad's precious Plymouth, which he had brought back from his time in America, had bench seats covered with a thick plastic-coated plaid and in the heat of summer this vile seat cover would soften and become cloyingly sticky. On any journey of more than about 20 minutes we would arrive in a slather of plasticky sweat.
And then there was the back-breaking task of picking bucket after bucket of berries. In those days we always ate as we picked - the growers knew that after quite a short time of gorging yourself you simply can't face another berry. Well, not a plain one without cream and sugar.
But the sweaty car ride and the sore backs were forgotten in the joyful pleasure of diving into bowls of fat red berries topped with lashings of chilled cream, icing sugar and sometimes, for a few extra cents, a scoop of the vanilla icecream the industrious roadside stall holder provided in a chilly bin. It was utter bliss. The berries were served in pretty china bowls and silver-plated spoons - no sign of anything plastic.
These days the berries and cream stand is long gone but the lingering memory of sun-ripened strawberries is enough to have me hurtling to a stop whenever I see a roadside berry stand. There's simply nothing that matches their ripe, just-picked taste.
The seasonal rhythm of the berry harvest kicks off in early spring with strawberries. These tend to flush from spring through January and then if you give the plants a haircut you can sometimes get an autumn harvest. Raspberries are next - starting in early December and running through for about six to eight weeks to late January. Some raspberry varieties will produce another harvest in autumn.
Blueberries come in many varieties and, of all the berries, their season runs the longest - starting in late spring and running well into the autumn. In the middle, around January, are the boysenberries - my favourites.
This dreamy frozen dessert is one of my most popular recipes. It's basically a frozen meringue with berries beaten into it, set on top of a crunchy biscuit base. It softens on defrosting so keep it in the freezer until just before serving.
Be sure to have the beater spotlessly clean and don't let any egg yolk break into the mixture as the meringue won't beat properly if it has any fat in it. Get the recipe
All berries freeze well. I usually pack them gently into an icecream container, but if they are a little soft or over-ripe, I freeze them on a tray and then free-flow them into bags, as otherwise they can stick together in a big clump. They're great to have on hand for smoothies. This recipe serves one but can easily be scaled up for more. Get the recipe
Coconut water makes a great jelly base to set fruit into, but if you prefer you can use fruit juice - just not pineapple or papaya juice as these contain an enzyme that prevents the gelatine from setting. Get the recipe
For more great Annabel Langbein recipes see her new winter annual Annabel Langbein A Free Range Life: Share the Love (Annabel Langbein Media, $24.95) or visit annabel-langbein.com