A punnet of sweet ripe berries is always a treat, in or out of season. Used in cooking for their beauty and flavour, berries make delicious purées and sauces - and instant desserts with a simple topping of cream.
The hulls of both wild and cultivated strawberries are usually removed, but they can be left intact if the berries are to be used for decoration, or if they are needed to facilitate dipping the fruit in melted chocolate.
REMOVING THE HULL
Prise out the leafy top (hull) with the tip of a small knife.
HULLS FOR DECORATION
Slice the whole fruit in half lengthwise with a chef's knife.
PEELING AND PIPPING GRAPES
When serving grapes in a sauce or as a garnish, both the chewy skin and the pips should be removed. The techniques here are for whole grapes; to remove the pips from grape halves, flick them out with the tip of a small, pointed knife.
Blanch 10 seconds, then strip off skin with a paring knife, starting at stalk end.
Open out a sterilized paper clip and pull out pips with one hooked end.
Currants need to have their stalks removed before use. The method used here is called strigging - the word strig was the 16th century name for a stalk. The only tool you need for this clever technique is an ordinary kitchen fork.
Run the tines of a fork down the stalk - the currants will come away easily.
ALRIGHT FOR SOME
Bursting with vitamin C and iron, potassium for controlling blood pressure, and ellagic acid, a substance thought to fight certain cancers, strawberries are rich in healthy attributes. Sadly, some people have an intolerance to strawberries, and develop a red skin rash or swollen fingers.
MAKING A BERRY PUREE
Strawberries and raspberries are best puréed raw (firm fruits like currants and cherries need to be cooked); sugar is added after puréeing, depending on the future use of the purée. About 250 g fruit will make 250 ml purée.
1. Put hulled and halved strawberries in a blender and purée. There is no need to hull and halve raspberries.
2. Rub purée through a fine sieve set over a bowl to remove seeds. Add icing sugar, if using; stir until dissolved.
MAKING A BERRY COULIS
For an instant coulis, liqueur is added to a sweetened berry purée.
Add 2 tbsp liqueur to sweetened berry purée - Cointreau with strawberries; kirsch with raspberries.
PUREEING IN A MOULI
When berries are worked through a Mouli (food mill) to make a purée, the seeds are left behind in the mill so there is no need to sieve afterwards.
Fit the fine disc into the Mouli and set it over a large bowl. Put berries of your choice (here strigged and cooked redcurrants are used) in the hopper (the top of the Mouli). Hold the handle firmly and turn the crank so that the blade pushes the fruit into the bowl.
USING BERRY COULIS TO GOOD EFFECT
Professional chefs use coulis for stylish presentations of single servings. Individual slices of desserts, tarts and cakes look especially good this way. Here are two ideas.
Ladle a large pool of coulis on to a chilled serving plate. Pipe small dots of cream in two parallel rows on top of the coulis, using a paper piping bag. Draw the tip of a knife through each of the the cream dots to create a feathered effect.
YIN AND YANG
Spoon a little coulis on a chilled serving plate. Using the tip of the spoon, pull the coulis out at one point to make a teardrop shape. Repeat with a different-coloured coulis, reversing the shape so the two teardrops come together in the centre.
USES FOR BERRY PUREES
A wide range of desserts can be made with the concentrated flavour of a berry purée.
• Use sweetened purée as a base for cold sweet soufflés, mousses, fools, ice creams, sorbets and granitas.
• Thin unsweetened purée with dry white wine, chill and serve as a refreshing fruit soup topped with a swirl of cream or Greek yogurt.
• Swirl sweetened purée into curd cheese for a fruit-flavoured cheesecake.
• Serve sweetened purée warm over ricotta-filled crêpes.