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Saluting the Season's Berry Bounty

July 11, 1996|KATHY CASEY

Huckleberries, pink and purple. Strawberries, domestic and wild. Himalayas, aka railroad blackberries, and tiny tart wild ones. Marionberries, boysenberries, tayberries. Raspberries, red, black and gold. Salmonberries, gooseberries, cranberries, blueberries. . . . I've picked and eaten them all.

In the summer I yearn for my first. I watch my strawberry and raspberry plants longingly as their blooms slowly develop into tiny green berries. Gradually they get their blush of pink and then almost magically turn to brilliant reds and crimson purples. I eat the first berry, savoring its perfect sweetness.

My mom still brags that when I was 5, I picked a flat of strawberries all by myself on our annual family berry-picking outing. Maybe it was this early exposure to berries that addicted me. Berries, especially raspberries, are my absolute favorite food.

The farmers markets first burst with strawberries then later abound with raspberries and the exotics. Fourth of July picnics ended with red, white and blue shortcakes of scarlet strawberries and plump blueberries topped off with white billowy clouds of whipped cream.

Then we cobble and crisp our way through the summer with all the delicious baked berry treats.

The ultra-ambitious among us preserve the jewels, making jams whose scents perfume the house and waft out the open windows. Family members, neighbors and passersby may be lured in for the hot jam foam slathered on bread when you skim the pot.

Other people believe that berries' best purpose is as pie filling. Sharon Kramis, a taste and flavor consultant and Seattle "berry queen," is among these.

She recommends a lattice crust on berry pies so the berries don't steam under the top layer. "I think the perfect berry pie is when you cut it, lift it to the plate and then the juices run just a little bit," she says. "I think you have to have some juice running out of the pie; otherwise, it's too thickened and you lose the taste of the berries, the taste of the fruit."

Kramis says her best berry recipe is one she learned as a student of her longtime friend, the late James Beard. It is berry grunt: Fill a glass 9x5-inch loaf pan three-quarters full of fresh berries; sprinkle with about 1/4 cup sugar. Then mix together 1 cup self-rising flour, 1/4 cup sugar and 1 cup whipping cream that's been whipped. Spread the mixture on top of the berries and bake at 375 degrees 35 to 40 minutes.

For James Beard's last birthday party, Kramis was asked to bring the dessert.

She fondly remembers: "I fixed wild blackberry pie. I'd picked the little tiny wild blackberries the size of your fingernail."

Beard took a bite and said, "Ah, you can taste the briar."

He liked it the way Kramis does, without ice cream, just plain.

Casey is a food writer and chef in Seattle.

CHOCOLATE CHIP BERRY SHORTCAKES

4 cups fresh berries, such as strawberries, raspberries or blackberries

1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, more or less to taste, depending on the tartness of the berries

2 tablespoons berry liqueur (optional)

2 cups flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup shortening

1/2 cup chocolate chips

1 cup milk, more or less as needed

1 cup whipping cream

1/3 cup powdered sugar, plus extra for dusting

Fresh mint sprigs

Edible flowers, such as pansies, optional

Lightly toss berries, sugar and liqueur together in large bowl. Refrigerate.

Meanwhile, in second large bowl, sift flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together. Cut in shortening, then stir in chocolate chips.

Lightly stir in enough milk to make soft, moist dough. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface.

Lightly pat dough to 1/2-inch thick. Cut dough into 2 1/2-inch rounds with biscuit cutter. Place on baking sheet, sides touching. Bake at 375 degrees until biscuits are lightly browned, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool.

Just before serving, whip cream with 1/3 cup powdered sugar until softly peaked. Place split biscuits on large chilled plates, spoon on chilled berries and top with dollops of whipped cream. Place biscuit tops slightly askew.

Garnish with fresh mint sprigs if you like. Dust rims of plates with powdered sugar shaken from sieve or shaker can. And for ultimate presentation, top off with edible flowers, if desired.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

591 calories; 624 mg sodium; 61 mg cholesterol; 32 grams fat; 72 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 0.64 gram fiber.

LEMON-GLAZED HUCKLEBERRY MUFFINS

HUCKLEBERRY MUFFINS

1/2 cup corn oil

2 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 3/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups fresh huckleberries

This old standard muffin method, using vegetable oil, produces muffins with the best texture. If you're not a huckleberry forager, try these with marionberries, raspberries, blueberries or blackberries.

Beat corn oil and eggs in large bowl with electric mixer until well blended. Add sugar and continue beating for 2 minutes or until mixture is creamy. Add lemon peel and lemon juice.

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