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Groundwork: The Two Seasons of the Raspberry

Perennial sunflower in bloom at Green Spring Gardens in Northern Virginia. (Adrian Higgins -- The Washington Post)

Fresh garden raspberries are one of the easy rewards of growing your own food. It's hard to find raspberry plants now at the garden center -- they're usually sold dormant in late winter -- but you can plan a site for your bramble patch this fall and set about clearing it of existing vegetation and enriching the soil. Don't place the raspberry plot next to other beds; the brambles will encroach in time and cause a maintenance nightmare. Give the raspberries their own bed, and put in edging to keep them contained. A row 12 feet long and two feet wide would accommodate 6 or 7 plants and keep a family of four in abundant stock for weeks.

As every good cook knows, there are many varieties of raspberries, and red is just one possible color. At Green Spring Gardens, Cindy Brown and the crew have a whole row devoted to golden raspberries, which are notoriously fragile and rarely seen at the supermarket. You can find yellow and golden varieties, and purple kinds that vary from deep crimson to purple-black.

Red varieties are easier to grow than the others, and they pack luscious tart-sweet flavor. Color, though, is secondary to the primary decision: Do you want June-bearing or fall-bearing plants? The answer is: both.

Traditional varieties produce their main crop in June. Fall-bearing, sometimes called ever-bearing, varieties start to fruit in mid-August and provide a harvest well into September. Yes, that technically is still summer, but in more northern states, the harvest comes about a month later.

The garden books tell you to provide trellising for your canes to ease harvest and cut down on diseases, but that is not as important as a proper pruning regimen. In late winter, for June-bearing varieties, you should prune your brambles, leaving healthy canes six inches apart. These should be tipped back by about six inches to promote side growth, which will bear fruit. After fruiting, cut out all the fruit-bearing canes, and thin out some of the new canes to reduce congestion.

The location must be well drained but with deep, enriched soil and a mulch (straw is perfect), because the plants need even moisture to set good fruit.

Ripening Kiwi Gold raspberries in the Green Spring vegetable garden. (Adrian Higgins -- The Washington Post)

Ever-bearing varieties are much easier; you can simply cut them to the ground (or mow them) in March. Unlike the June bearers, they have been developed to flower and fruit on the new season's growth, making them pretty much foolproof.

Needless to say, these are thorny creatures, so wear thick gardening gloves when tackling these chores, and don't roll up your sleeves for the summer work.

I have grown two red June bearers, Latham and Taylor, both excellent in flavor and disease resistant. If you grow only one variety of raspberry, make it Heritage, which is a red fall bearer that is delicious and uncomplicated. I have also grown Fall Gold with success. The golden varieties tend to rot more in wet weather and are quite fragile, but a real treat.

Cindy is growing Kiwi Gold, which is actually more productive than Fall Gold, by the looks of it, and one I will plant next time I install a raspberry patch. But enough of this pruning banter. Let's eat.
-- Adrian Higgins.

Cindy: This is decadent without being too caloric. Use the freshest ingredients you can find. This is where having your own berry patch really helps. Not only are they tastier, they are also much cheaper.
Berries should be consumed within a day or two. Raspberries are fragile and do not store well.

Basil Berries With Peaches and Cream

8 servings

These berries can also be served warm or cold over ice cream or pound cake.

1 vanilla bean
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 cups raspberry dessert wine, such as Bonny Doon Framboise California Dessert Wine
1 pint raspberries (2 cups, mixed red and yellow)
1 cup Thai basil leaves, torn into smaller pieces; plus 8 sprigs, for garnish
4 peaches, peeled and cut in half, pits removed
1 pint frozen yogurt or ice cream

Prepare the grill. If using a gas grill, preheat the grill to medium high. If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them evenly under the cooking area. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for about 6 or 7 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames. Lightly coat the grill rack with oil and place it on the grill.

Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a small, sharp knife, placing them in a medium bowl. Save the pod for future use (wrap in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil, and freeze). Add the sugar and cornstarch to the bowl, and combine. This is easiest to do with your hands, massaging the seeds with your fingers to mix.

Place the raspberry dessert wine and 1/4 cup of the raspberries in a small nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Heat until small bubbles appear at the edges of the pan, then cook without boiling for 2 minutes. Place the uncooked berries in a separate medium bowl, first reserving 8 of them for a garnish. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked berries to the bowl.

Gradually whisk the hot liquid from the pan into the sugar mixture, until combined, then pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Add the basil leaves and whisk while bringing the liquid to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook without boiling for 3 minutes. Continue whisking to combine and to keep the liquid from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
After 3 minutes, the liquid should have the consistency of melted Jell-O. Place a strainer over the berries in the bowl and pour the hot wine mixture over them. Stir to combine.

Place the peach halves on the grill cut side down for 2 to 5 minutes, until the fruit is warm and the flat edges begin to brown. (The cooking time will depend on the temperature of the grill.) Place ech peach half on a plate and top with a scoop of yogurt or ice cream. Top with the basil-berry sauce; top each portion with a fresh berry and a basil sprig.

NUTRITION | Per serving (with frozen yogurt): 302 calories, 5 g protein, 48 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 33 mg cholesterol, 28 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 39 g sugar

By Adrian Higgins  |  August 24, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Groundwork  | Tags: Adrian Higgins, raspberries  
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