With summer upon us, it is the beautiful berry season. A plethora of delicious berries are now available at New Covent Garden Market (NCGM), both home-grown favourites such as strawberries and raspberries, and more exotic varieties, all of which look beautiful on the plate and make a colourful addition to menus.
Continuing our tutored tasting series, we gave the task of testing and tasting berries to four up and coming intermediate pâtisserie diploma students from Le Cordon Bleu cookery school. The students were guided by chefs Julie Walsh and Matthew Hodgett who were on hand to advise on all aspects of the pastry section.
The berries were provided by NCGM wholesale distributor Mash Purveyors so the budding chefs could discuss their flavour profiles and share ideas for dishes.
David Swain of Mash Purveyors comments: "Mash champions British berries wherever possible. Recently we have noticed a growing interest among chefs in the more unusual berries and we are now seeing UK farms growing varieties such as red gooseberries which were previously only available from abroad."
Here, Swain guides us through a selection of berries.
Properties A member of the rose family, raspberries have a wonderfully intense, sweet taste. Look for bright, evenly coloured and plump berries, with no mushy or mouldy examples and no stalks attached, which indicates that the berries were unripe when picked.
Usage Serve with cream or ice-cream, use in tarts, trifles and cheesecakes. Also use to make coulis, sauces for game and to flavour white wine vinegar.
Notes Available late June to early October. Very short shelf life so use them quickly.
Properties The pineberry combines the shape and texture of a strawberry with a flavour and smell closer to that of a pineapple. White skin with tiny red pips, they look to be the reverse of strawberries.
Usage Can be used in much the same way as strawberries, but their short season puts them at a premium.
Notes Grown under glass, pineberries have only a five-week season in the summer.
Properties A purply black-coloured
berry comprising many individual seed-containing fruits surrounding a cone-shaped core. Wonderfully juicy, they're good raw and cooked.
Usage Sprinkle with sugar and serve with cream; purée and sieve to make a coulis for ice-cream or to make sherbets, fools or sorbets. Bake with chopped apples in a crumble.
Notes Available end of July through to mid October. Look for plump, shiny, tender berries, with none that are mushy or mouldy.
Properties The strasberry is a variety of wild strawberry, with a raspberry-like appearance. It is not a hybrid of the two fruits as is often thought. It is similarly soft textured, with characteristics that are similar to raspberries, such as being a deeper red, being rounder and having a bumpy exterior. It is also smaller than a strawberry and has deeper seeds. The fruit has a unique aromatic flavour.
Usage As with strawberries, delicious on their own or with cream, ice-cream or crème fraîche. Use to make a variety of desserts such as pavlova, ice-cream, summer fruit pudding, and so on.
Notes Originally developed in South America in the 1900s, they almost became extinct until they were reintroduced commercially by a Dutch farmer in the 21st century. Short season, from April to June or July.
Properties The size of large grapes, but more spherical. Early in the season they are bright green, with a veined effect on the skin, and quite hard and tart, best for cooking with. Later on, softer, sweeter varieties become available, often yellow or red coloured which are good eaten raw. Some varieties have sparse, thin hairs.
Usage Earlier, tart varieties are perfect for making the classic English pudding gooseberry fool. Also good for jams, sauces, crumble, pies, and a tart sauce for rich roasts like pork, goose and mackerel.
Notes If you're going to cook with them, look for slightly under-ripe - but not rock-hard - berries. For eating raw, choose berries that yield to the touch, and are juicy.
Properties Small, round, smooth-skinned and fleshy with tiny seeds, blueberries have a balanced, tart and sweet flavour.
Usage Eat raw with cream; add to the mix for muffins, breads and pancakes or bake in a pie or tart. Cook in a little water with sugar and some lemon zest to make a topping for baked cheesecake.
Notes Available end of June to early September. Look for plump, indigo blueberries of a fairly uniform size, with a slight silvery bloom.
Properties Arguably the most popular fruit in the world, they are at their best when plump, ruby red and juicy.
Usage The possibilities are endless; with cream or ice-cream or sprinkled with a little balsamic vinegar. Add to fruit salads. Use to make jam, tarts or to top puddings and cakes.
Notes Imports are available all year round, but the British season runs from late May to early September. Strawberries do not store well so need to be eaten quickly and served at room temperature for the best flavour.
What the chefs said
● "I enjoyed using the pineberries - they have a sharp taste and work well alongside strawberries for visual effect and sweetness."
● "The raspberries bruise really easily when you wash them so you have to remember to handle them carefully."
● "I made a summer berry galette with the berries and always find strawberries work best fresh in a tart. It showcases strawberries at their best."
● "I found the flavour of the blueberries intensified when cooked down - this gives a great texture, too."
● "I made a Champagne, elderflower and berry jelly with almond sticks and black pepper foam. The pineberry was excellent in the jelly as you can see how pretty the berry is, like a reverse strawberry."
● "I find that whitecurrants work beautifully as a garnish - a little branch of berries is an attractive structure."
● "I found the gooseberry very sour in comparison to all the other berries today. It's probably best cooked and combined with other flavours."
Pâtisserie chef and teacher, Le Cordon Bleu
● "When I found out we were doing a masterclass on berries my mind went boom - there's just so much you can do!"
Head pastry chef, Le Cordon Bleu
● "We used brioche for a summer pudding because it's sweeter and you need to add less sugar in with the berries, which means you taste more berry."
● "The quality and grading of berries is very important for a pastry chef as it impacts on the finished visual effect of the dish. You should hand-pick through the fruit first for bruising and to sort the different sizes. Small fruit is not good for cooking as it will disintegrate and lose its shape. It's best used whole for decoration."
For information on supply, contact Mash Purveyors at New Covent Garden Market on 020 7720 9191, or visit www.mashpurveyors.com
New Covent Garden Market provides 40% of the fruit and vegetables eaten in London restaurants. For more information, or a tour of the market, visit www.newcoventgardenmarket.com