A berry with 200 varieties and four colors.
Raspberries by whitneyinchicago, on Flickr
Botanically speaking, raspberries are a family of plants in the genus Rubus that grow on at least five continents–and that was before the Roman Empire started planting them wherever it traveled. In the United States, however, the two most commonly encountered varities are the Rubus idaeus and Rubus occidentalis.
The former species is the common red raspberry, cultivated since at least the 16th century in Europe. The latter is the black raspberry, native to North America, where it was really only cultivated since the early 19th century.
There’s a bit of ambiguity about the name. Some etymologists think that it has an origin in in Old French and the verb rasper, meaning “to scrape.” If you pull the berry off of the plant, a little cone is left behind with a rough appearance; this is typically called the rasp.
Others say it’s the rough appearance of the berry. A third camp thinks the word came from 15th century English and the word rapise, a rose-colored wine.
You might encounter four colors in the market: the red, the black, the purple (a hybrid of the red and black) and the golden. But the golden is a bit confusing–it is, in essence, the albino version of either a red or a black raspberry. It has a slightly different flavor than its fully-pigmented cousins, but gets the texture of the parent plant.
The culinary distinctions: Black raspberries tend to be a bit more tart and have a few more seeds, making them trickier to use fresh but ideal for jams and jellies. The golden varieties tend to be the least tart, making them easy to eat in quantity when fresh, but kind of useless in cooking. The red and purple have a good balance of sweetness and tartness.
Don’t be put off by the “hairs” on raspberries. Those are what’s left of the pistils–raspberries self-propagate. And the pistils sticking out often help protect the delicate berries in transit. And they are delicate–because raspberries are hollow after being pulled off the rasp, the “bumps” are basically little juice-filled balloons with a seed in the middle. If you’re using fresh ones, don’t wash them until just before serving.
Here’s another take on a spoon-able dairy and raspberry treat from Catharine Esther Beecher in her 1846 treatise Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book:
Currant, Raspberry, or Strawberry Whisk
Put three gills of the juice of the fruit to ten ounces of crushed sugar, add the juice of a lemon, and a pint and a half of cream. Whisk it till quite thick, and serve it in jelly glasses, or a glass dish.
From a box sold in Martinez, California.
2 pkg. raspberry Jell-o
2 pkg. frozen raspberries
2 small cans crushed pineapple, drained
1/2 pint sour cream
Make 1 pkg. of Jell-o using 1 c. boiling water, 1/2 c. cold water, 1 pkg. frozen berries, and 1 c. pineapple. Let it set in a mold and spread the sour cream over it.
Repeat the Jell-o directions for the top layer. Chill until firm.
Recipe from Hana