- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Most of us are familiar with the frustration of opening a beautiful melon or pineapple and discovering that what we purchased was actually a melon- or pineapple-shaped object.

We want to close the fruit and tape it together so it can ripen on a windowsill. Alas, that won’t happen. So we feel obligated to eat the imperfect fruit, although important qualities such as texture and flavor are missing.

There is a silver lining. A bright pink dip made from raspberries can help salvage pineapples, melons and other fruits that are not inspiring on their own. The dip tastes so good, we may want to eat it plain, and it is just as delicious made with frozen, defrosted raspberries as with fresh.

Raspberries belong to the rose family. This fact will not come as a surprise if you’ve ever gone on a raspberry-harvesting expedition; the shrubs are intensely prickly. Each berry is actually a cluster of tiny coated seeds — drupelets — arranged around a hollow central cavity.

While the most common type of raspberry (Rubus idaeus) is red-pink, raspberries also come in a spectrum of colors ranging from black, purple, orange and yellow to a very elegant white.

Wonderful though they are, raspberries can be frustrating, as tiny bits of mold can hide easily within the drupelets, surprising us unpleasantly. Here are some pointers for buying and storing this perishable fruit so you won’t needlessly suffer the heartbreak of mold surprise.

• Raspberries generally are available from midsummer through early fall. Ripe berries have a deep and even color. Overripe berries appear dull, soft, watery or moldy.

• Don’t buy berries if their container is stained and leaking or packed too tightly. This usually indicates crushed or moldy berries.

• Don’t wash berries until just before eating.

• To help berries stay fresh longer, refrigerate them in a single layer on a paper-towel-lined pan covered with another layer of paper towels.

• Although raspberries can be chilled and stored as described above, they are so fragile it is best to eat or freeze them as soon after purchase as possible.

It’s easy to freeze raspberries. Just spread them on a tray and put it in the freezer for about 30 minutes so the berries freeze as separate units. Then transfer the berries to a resealable plastic bag and return them to the freezer. They’ll keep for months. An added benefit of frozen berries is that they give off tons of juice when defrosted, and it tastes great.

Bright pink raspberry dip

This deep-pink, festive dip can be a snack or appetizer, and it flirts with the dessert category, as well. Serve it with any variety of fresh fruit cut into spears or slices for dipping. Cantaloupe and honeydew are ideal, but tart apples, crisp pears and just-ripe bananas aren’t bad, either. The dip keeps well up to a week if stored in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.

1½ cups fresh or frozen raspberries, defrosted and drained if frozen (see note)

1/4 to ½ cup sugar or light honey

1 8-ounce package Neufchatel or cream cheese

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste

Freshly cut fruit

Combine raspberries with sugar or honey to taste, Neufchatel or cream cheese, and lemon juice to taste in a blender or food processor, and puree until smooth-ish. (The raspberry seeds will remain charmingly crunchy.) Transfer to a bowl.

Serve right away with a platter of freshly cut fruit or store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes about 2 cups.

Note: If using frozen and defrosted berries, make sure they are the unsweetened variety. Save the juice that accumulates during the defrosting process and use it for anything. It makes fantastic pink lemonade.


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