Berry Unlikely

Sweet twists on the simplest summer fruits.

Which of the following is a berry? (A) raspberry, (B) blackberry, (C) strawberry, (D) blueberry or (E) banana.

If you answered E, congratulations, you get the prize—of those five choices, the banana is the only true berry in the bunch. And what is a “true” berry? Botanically speaking, a berry is the simplest fruit, grown from the ovary of a single flower, as in the grape and the tomato, which are also true berries. The blueberry (and the cranberry, for that matter) are “false” berries, growing from another part of the flower. Raspberries and blackberries are clumps—each little juicy sac is an individual fruit. And the strawberry? It’s technically a vegetable, a spectacular swelling of the stem where the flower parts attach, and the little seedlike things on its surface are actually fruit.

But don’t tell that to Barry and Jan Fitzgerald, purveyors of Charles City County-based Barry’s Berries and Jan’s Jams at Rose Tree Hill Farm. They are firmly among the vast majority of the population who simply don’t care about any technically correct definition of “berry.” “We’ll just go with the colloquial one,” says Jan, a smile in her voice.

There’s ample reason that the colloquialism “berry” so strongly ties together this group of small fruits (and a vegetable), with their vivid colors and bright flavors and iconic things to be made from them. You bake berries into pies. You douse them with cream. Cook them down to gooey goodness and seal them into jars. Or skip cooking entirely—just pop them into your mouth and let their flavor burst on your tongue, the taste of summer. Maybe you’re even lucky enough to pluck them right off the plant, sun-warm.

That’s how Barry Fitzgerald likes berries best. And, for the last handful of years, he’s had more access than most. Up until 2006, Barry and Jan had always grown blueberries in their home garden. “They did so well,” says Barry, “we decided to become blueberry farmers.” The couple started with two acres. Since then, with some help and encouragement from Virginia State University’s Small Farm Program, the Fitzgeralds have diversified. Six of their 21 acres are now planted with blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, mulberries and strasberries.

Yes, that’s strasberry, which reputedly falls somewhere between the strawberry and the raspberry, but which, says Barry, is really a wild strawberry native to South America and cultivated in Europe. “They have a lot more old-fashioned strawberry taste,” he adds. “Much better than the ones they’ve bred all the taste out of.” It’s Jan’s favorite. “It has a real sparkle to it,” she says.

Jan’s Jams—all five berry types plus a spiced blueberry-honey jam—recently earned the vaunted Virginia’s Finest designation. She also enjoys making pies and describes a “refrigerator-fresh” pie that sounds easy as … well, pie: Chop up some strawberries and cook them with sugar and corn starch to make a sauce. Arrange some whole berries in a baked pie shell, pour the cooled sauce over, and chill until set. (We don’t see why any of the other berry varieties couldn’t substitute, by the way.)

While Jan is just fine with the colloquial usage of “berry,” she’s plenty cosmopolitan in how she uses berries. How could the author of The Foothills Gourmet Cookbook of the Well-Traveled Hillbilly not be? She has been known, for instance, to make chicken with raspberry sauce, similar to the one we present here. In fact, berries pair nicely with any number of unexpected ingredients—they’re not just for dessert anymore. Don’t worry, though: We won’t leave this gathering of berry unlikely bedfellows without a colloquially sweet finish.

Baked Brie with berry salsa

Brie

Wrap a wheel of Brie in two sheets of phyllo dough, brush the closure with beaten egg, and bake smooth-side-up at 350 for 20 – 25 minutes, until brown.

salsa

1⁄4 cup each of blueberries, strawberries (sliced), raspberries and blackberries 1 tablespoon sugar

1⁄2 teaspoon lemon juice

1⁄2 teaspoon minced jalapeño (adjust amount for desired heat)

Toss the berries with sugar, and let them sit for 15 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, and serve with baked Brie.

Ceviche with blueberries

1⁄2 cup each red, yellow, green and orange peppers, diced

1⁄2 cup diced red onion

6 grape tomatoes, sliced

1⁄2 jalapeño, seeded, veined and minced

3⁄4 cup fresh lime juice

1⁄2 cup lemon juice

1⁄2 cup chopped cilantro

1⁄2 cup blueberries

mango slices for garnish

1 cup Laughing Bird shrimp

1 cup scallops, sliced in half

sea salt and pepper to taste

1 cup good olive oil

Mix the two juices and marinate the seafood for 20 to 30 minutes in a glass bowl. In a separate bowl, mix all the peppers with the onion and cilantro, and season well with sea salt and pepper. Strain the seafood and add to the pepper mix, reserving juice. Combine the juice with the olive oil, pour over the mixed peppers and seafood, and mix well. Refrigerate for an additional 30 minutes. Before serving, gently mix in blueberries, and garnish with mango.

Chicken with raspberry vinegar sauce

chicken breasts

butter

olive oil

1 shallot, finely minced

1 cup chicken stock

1⁄4 cup raspberry vinegar*

1 cup cream

salt

pepper

Salt and pepper breasts and sauté in butter and olive oil. Take chicken out and keep it warm in a 225-degree oven. Add to the pan a tablespoon of butter and the shallot, and sauté until translucent (not brown). Add the chicken stock and cook for 5 to 6 minutes over medium heat, until reduced by half. Then add the raspberry vinegar and reduce for another minute or two. Add the cream and reduce until thickened to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper, and strain. When serving, pour a puddle of the sauce into each plate, and arrange sliced chicken breasts on top.

*To make your own raspberry vinegar: Combine 2 cups raspberries with 4 cups white wine or champagne vinegar, cover, and infuse at room temperature for three or four days.

Red berry pudding

4 cups currants

2 cups raspberries

2 cups strawberries

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 1⁄4 cup water

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla

Mix the berries with sugar and marinate 15 minutes to release their juices. Add 1 cup water, bring to a simmer and simmer on low for 8 to 10 minutes. Mix cornstarch with 1⁄4 cup water, add to the simmering fruit mixture and simmer for 2 more minutes. Add lemon juice and vanilla. Once partially cool, fill into appropriate vessels and refrigerate overnight. Serve with heavy cream (preferred), whipped cream, vanilla sauce or plain yogurt.

To pick your own berries at Rose Tree Hill Farm by appointment, call (804) 966-7357—or find Barry’s Berries and Jan’s Jams at the Williamsburg Farmers’ Market in Merchant’s Square, Saturdays May through October.

Prop styling by Courtney Spencer

christine ennulat
Virginia Living’s Associate Editor
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