Friday, July 22, 2011

Wild Raspberry Cranachan, Muffins and Omelettes.

Happening upon a patch of ripe wild raspberries is one of my greatest foraging pleasures. I don't use the words "happening upon" casually either. I have wandered along familiar paths only to discover that a raspberry bush has suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Obviously, this isn't the case, it's just that the raspberry is such an inconspicuous plant, even in flower, and so easily blends into the ever-present brambles, that I have often overlooked its presence until I happen to be walking past it whilst it's in full fruit in late June-July. I think therein lies the greatest pleasure, the happy surprise of discovery and its coinciding with the most glorious of fruits usually in their prime for scoffing on the spot.
The tumbling red jewels of the wild raspberry are a delight to the eye as well as the palate.

It seems as though I have to be thankful for the dampness of the Irish weather for the quantity of wild raspberries near me. Apparently they like the rain and are more common in wetter locations such as Ireland and Scotland. It's not bad compensation, I suppose. They differ very little from the cultivated kind so its easy to identify it confidently. The canes grow tall (about 1.5 metres) and straight and the underside of the leaves, which usuallly consist of 3-5 leaflets, are covered in dense white hairs. Like the wild strawberry, the fruit is quite a bit smaller and therefore takes a little longer to collect a worthwhile quantity.

A useful size comparison between wild and cultivated raspberries

They also seem to go from unripe to over-ripe in no time at all and so picking them can involve messy fingers as you grapple some from the bush and watch others slide through your fingers as liquid. I tend to  tuck an empty plastic punnet securely into an open bumbag (I hate that word, but there it is) leaving me with two hands to give careful and speedy handling to the fruits - I've come to loathe one-handed foraging. Thankfully, as raspberries don't have particularly savage prickles, they are pleasurable to pick regardless. Another point to note for successful gathering is this - I've been out with children collecting these little gems and that's brilliant if you want to share the joys and experience of wild food. If, however, you have culinary plans for the raspberries and need a fair few to reach your kitchen, it might be best to leave the kids at home. Just saying.
Most parts of the plant have their uses. The leaves make an excellent tasting tea (25g dried leaves to 500ml boiling water) that has been used to treat sore throats, clean wounds and ulcers and help with relaxing the uterus for childbirth. The root can be eaten if it's thoroughly cooked although I've never tried this - for me, the pleasure of eating the fruit year after year, far outweighs any delight that might be had from uprooting the plant for one meal. The petals too are edible and a pretty addition to any salad. The fruit though is the highlight of this plant, for as well as being the most attractive of fruits, the wild raspberry has the most intense of flavours that is best treated simply.

There are a number of ways to preserve the berries. They can be spread thinly on a baking sheet and frozen, although they do become a little soggy on thawing. They can be dried like raisins, or mushed or boiled before drying in the sun, in a container to make loaves, or in thin strips to make fruit leathers. I happen to like Dick and James Strawbridge's method that I found in their Practical Self-Sufficiency - it involves alcohol! *Ahem* Place equal quantities of raspberries, caster sugar and alcohol of choice into a sterilised jar making sure the alcohol covers the fruit. Add a muslin bag containing a tsp juniper berries if desired. Seal and store in a dark place. Gently shake the jar daily for the first week or so. The higher the alcohol content, the longer the fruits will last. Never tried this but it would be rude not to give it a go this year.

So yes, there are a lot of ways to keep the fruit edible over long periods but I still think that raspberries are always best eaten shortly after picking and preferably uncooked - although I am partial to the odd raspberry muffin.

Wild Raspberry Cranachan
From Pamela Michael's Edible Wild Herbs and Plants

4 heaped tablespoons wild raspberries
2 generous teaspoons Drambuie (or 2 teaspoons caster sugar if serving to children)
2 level tablespoons of medium oatmeal (not porridge)
6 tablespoons of whipping cream
  •  Spoon the raspberries into individual glasses and sprinkle over the Drambuie or caster sugar.
  • Leave to macerate for 30 minutes.
  • Measure the oatmeal onto a baking tray and toast in a medium oven (180 degrees C) for 4-5 minutes. Shake the tray half way through to avoid burning.
  • Once the oatmeal is lightly browned and slightly toasted remove to cool.
  • Measure the cream into a bowl and whip until soft peaks are only just starting to form.
  • Fold in the oatmeal leaving a little for garnish.
  • Pile the cream over the raspberries, garnish and serve straight away. 

 Wild Raspberry and Dark Chocolate Muffins
75g unsalted butter
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tspns baking powder
75g caster sugar
pinch of salt
200ml buttermilk (or 100g yoghurt & 100ml semi-skimmed milk; or 200ml regular milk at a push)
1 large egg
200g raspberries
50g dark chocolate chopped
  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C
  • Melt the butter and allow to cool
  • Combine all the dry ingredients (except for the raspberries and chocolate) in a bowl.
  • In a seperate bowl beat together the buttermilk, egg and melted butter.
  • Very gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry using a wooden spoon until barely mixed - there will be lumps.
  • Fold in the raspberries and chocolate keeping mixing to a minimum.
  • Divide equally into 12 paper muffin cases and pop the tray in the oven for about 20 mins
I think these are best served warm whilst the chocolate is still deliciously gooey.

Wild Raspberry Sweet Omelette
From Pamela Michael's Edible Wild Herbs and Plants

50 g/1/2 cup of wild raspberries
1 tsp caster sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 egg white
15g butter
A little icing sugar

  • Lightly mash the raspberries and caster sugar together
  • Put egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl and beat well.
  • Put egg whites into another bowl with a pinch of salt and whisk until stiff.
  • Fold the whites into the yolk mixture.
  • Put butter into the pan and add when sizzling add the egg mixture, turn down heat and cook for 3 mins.
  • Pop the pan under a preheated grill for a couple of mins to puff up and colour.
  • Slide onto plate and pour over the raspberries.
  • Fold in half and dust with icing sugar.
This sweet and fluffy omelette is divine and unquestionably my favourite way to consume the good old wild raspberry