The last child has left the house for school. The table is clean and neatly set, and the coffee is brewing. The cool orange juice stands like a sentry over the tableware. Mother sits down, pours cereal into a bowl, and sprinkles it lightly with sugar. She is then ready for the final masterpiece. She carefully spoons pre-cut ruby red strawberries onto the mound of golden corn flakes. Pouring ivory-white milk over the concoction, Mother smiles to herself. An attractive, nutritious breakfast fit for a queen.
Most people around the world are now familiar with and can enjoy strawberries, but few are familiar with other, more exotic berries, such as the gooseberry, blackberry, and raspberry.Indeed, even fewer people realize what the word berry technically refers to. The berry of the botanist and the berry of the public are often two quite different fruits.
Those whose specialty is plants define a berry as a simple, fleshy fruit with a thin wall and many seeds. Under this classification are several surprises. One would expect that cranberries are berries, of course, but less obvious members of this class are dates, grapes, tomatoes, and even potatoes, bananas, and asparagus! Indeed, according to botanists, some popular "berries" are not true berries at all. Experts in plant life consider the blueberry an "inferior berry" and the strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry an "aggregate fleshy fruit." However,no matter how scientists call them, most people think of berries as small, round, sweet, and delicious fruits.
Berries such as strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries prefer cool and moist growing conditions. Though they rarely thrive in tropical conditions, they can be grown on the sides of taller hills and mountains there. Several species of wildlife forage for berries, the largest of these being the bear. Some smaller mammals and birds, too, enjoy berries, not to mention people. Wild berries are noticeably smaller than their domesticated cousins, but many people prefer the full, rich taste of freshly picked forest berries.
Besides being a condiment on breakfast cereals, are there any other uses for berries? Westerners make good use of their local fruits. Jellies, jams, and preserves can be easily made with berries, gelatin, and sugar. These three sweetened foods differ only in the process used to make them. Jellies are made from the juice of a fruit, jams from the thoroughly crushed fruit, and preserves from the partially crushed or cut fruit. They are all equally delicious!
Berries are also used in baked goods. Pies and tarts often contain berries as do many other pastries. These small fruits are also added into cakes and even breads, especially after drying. In addition, the concentrated juice of berries can be used to make cool summer drinks. Concentrated further, various syrups can be added to foods as diverse as pancakes and ice cream. As flavorings, they are often added to candies and chocolates. In Western cuisine, life would be less sweet and interesting without the humble berry.
For some people, though, berries are best eaten fresh. They say that after washing and refrigerating, simply place a generous portion of berries into a cereal bowl, add chilled milk, and top with sugar. Enjoy! As the season for berries is usually in the summer and fall, this snack or dessert really hits the spot. For those who do not live where berries grow naturally and plentifully, these natural dessert fruits can be enjoyed while visiting those areas lucky enough to have them.