Let’s Talk Food: Berries are in season

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Blackberry jam

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Berries with granola and yogurt

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Berry cream pie

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Blackberry bush

Raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and blueberries are starting to appear at the markets now and are quite sweet. You might as well get your fill of them now because berries taste best when they are fresh and in season.

Berries have many health benefits, and if you are looking for that miracle superfood, these fruits might fit the bill. That is supported by Blue Zones, which posted the following information on its website.

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According to Julie Morris, who wrote “Smart Plants: Power Foods &Natural Nootropics for Optimized Thinking, Focus and Memory,” purple berries are good for the following:

• Improve problem-solving, learning and memory.

• Highly neuroprotective and anti-aging.

• Help with fluidity of thought.

• Improve coordination and balance.

• Increase alertness and focus.

• Enhance potential for neurogenesis (an intricate process by which new nerve cells are generated).

Further, Morris states: “Humans were eating all kinds of purple berries as an important source of energy. Now we’ve come to discover there’s much more to this special class of superfoods.

“Purple berries are a tremendous source of that all-important antioxidant group: flavonoids. While most berries contain many types of these beneficial compounds (and other antioxidants as well), purple berries are particularly rich in anthocyanins, which are often found in purple, blue and black foods, as syanin suggests. However, anthocyanins are unstable and can break down easily, and your body can only absorb a small percentage of what you consume. So, if you’d like to enjoy the anti-aging benefits of anthocyanins, it is very important to obtain the most nutrient-dense sources you can find. In general, the easiest way to recognize high-antioxidant sources is to look for natural foods that have the darkest and most vibrant colors.

“Scientists have found that once they are digested, anthocyanins can cross the blood-brain barrier and travel directly to the hippocampus, where they can have a beneficial impact on learning and memory.”

Dr. Barbara Shikitt-Hale, U.S. Department of Agriculture staff scientist in the Laboratory of Neuroscience and Aging, clarified how berries are so beneficial to our health.

“It’s not only the antioxidant capacity that’s important: It’s their anti-inflammatory capacities, as well as their direct effects on the brain,” said Shikitt-Hale. “In one of the studies, we found that blueberries and strawberries increased neurogenesis, which is the process of making new neurons in the brain … the positive signals go up while the negative signals go down.”

In her study with a group of elderly people eating a healthy diet that included blueberries, they experienced improved memory in just three months!

Dr. Paula Bickford, distinguished professor of the Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair, showed that a “diet enriched with blueberry can offer protection against cellular damage from oxidative stress, decrease inflammation in the brain and enhance the health of the brain cells overall.”

With all these experts telling you the benefits of berries, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner while in season.

I love berries with yogurt and granola for breakfast and there is nothing better than a berry cream pie for dessert!

We have a blackberry bush that gives us beautiful berries in the summer, which I make jam out of. Since blackberries are naturally high in pectin, you only need sugar. I do not like the seeds, so I make blackberry jam by straining the berries after I boil them in water.

Blackberry Jam

Makes: 2 cups

2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries

2 cups water

Boil the washed berries in water for 15 minutes, until the berries are well cooked.

Strain with strainer. Discard (great mulch). Measure liquid and add equal amounts of sugar.

Boil in a maslin pan (preserving jam pan) till temperature on the candy thermometer registers 220 degrees. Place jam in sterilized jars and seal. Place sealed jars in water and boil for 10 minutes.

Berry Cream Pie

Makes: 1 pie

Sweet Dough:

In a food processor, blend:

1 1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup sugar

Add:

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

1 egg yolk

Pulse until mixture forms a ball.

Remove from processor, form a ball, roll into 1/4-inch, place in pie pan or 8-inch square pan.

Using fork, pierce dough, bake in 350-degree oven for 20 minutes, check crust, continue baking till crust is golden brown. Cool crust on wire rack.

Cream filing:

Place in pot with rounded edges (for ease of whisking):

1 1/2 cup evaporated milk (use one can and add water to make 1 1/2 cups)

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup cornstarch

Heat over medium, constantly stirring with a whisk, until mixture begins to thicken, add:

2 egg yolks beaten

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

Continue stirring with a whisk and cook until there are no more bubbles and the mixture is smooth and thick. Cool slightly, then pour filling into cooked crust, smooth out with spatula.

Place berries (strawberries are easier to eat if sliced or cubed) to cover the filling.

Make a simple syrup:

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

Boil until sugar is dissolved. Using a pastry brush, paint the berries to create a shiny surface.

Foodie bites

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Next week’s column is about pie crusts. The sweet dough with egg yolks makes a sturdier crust that is perfect for wet fillings.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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