A berry happy 4th of July!

Berries! So small, so adorable! If you really look at your berries, you’ll see each one is unique. I have a small sketch pad I carry around in my back pocket, like a journalist walking around with her reporter’s notebook. I was recently waiting for someone at a restaurant and ordered a bowl of mixed berries. The blackberries a bumpy, deep blue-purple; the blueberries smooth, deep blue with a whitish, dusky coating; the strawberries a cheerful, nearly heart-shaped red… such amazing colors! I pulled out my sketchpad and pencil and grew immersed in drawing the fruits (that later turned into a little painting, see below); finding their idiosyncrasies, their quirks and crevices. My friend showed up and sat down. I didn’t even notice her!

They’re seductive, these berries, little nutrition-rich jewels with special powers in every bite. You can DO so many things in the kitchen with them; they’re so easy to play with! You can mix and match, sprinkle them into a salad for instance, where they surprise with a pop of color and flavor. 

And the fragrance! I can smell a ripe strawberry at LEAST 50 yards away in the farmer’s market. As I’m turning the corner I can smell the Chandler strawberries, a very special variety a favorite farmer grows, and I’m READY to bite into a sample berry. Pure unadulterated bliss!

Beautiful AND power-packed!

As if beauty, flavor, and fragrance were not enough to recommend them, berries are rich with nutrition to keep us healthy. Just a few notes on a few berries:

Blueberries — Anti-inflammatory. Antioxidant. Great for heart health, cognitive functioning, memory and overall brain health. Next time you forget where you put your car keys, try eating some blueberries! Studies indicate that the anthocyanins responsible for blueberry’s deep color are associated with improving memory and possibly lowering depression. The flavonoids they deliver help delay cognitive decline in older people. Blueberry consumption may also improve memory and help neurons survive, and the anthocyanins have led researchers to suggest they are “essential” to heart health. 

Curious why blueberries have that dusky-white coating? Click here.

Raspberries — Anticancer. Anti-inflammatory. Excellent for cognitive functioning, memory and mood. Raspberries contain ellagic acid, associated with potentially inhibiting the development of cancers of the skin, lung, liver, esophagus, and also with destroying the human papilloma virus (HPV) responsible for cervical cancer. 

Resveratrol, present in raspberries, red wine, cocoa powder, and, surprisingly, peanuts, has been shown in early-phase in vitro studies to possibly help inhibit Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. One recent study of people who ate lots of berries found that they maintained their cognitive functioning an extra two years compared with non-berry eaters. Raspberries deliver lots of mood-elevating vitamin C and memory-boosting vitamin K. 

Strawberries — Anticancer and great for cognitive functioning, healthy sleep, memory, mood and skin health. Most us don’t think of skin as a defense mechanism, but that’s exactly what it is: a barrier that keeps damaging intruders from breaking into the body. The rich vitamin C content of strawberries aids in the production of collagen, which helps keep skin supple and protects against microtears. Compounds in strawberries have been shown to kill certain cancer cells while helping normal cells repair themselves. In addition, researchers at Tufts University found that older rats given regular rations of strawberries performed tasks as accurately as younger rats. 

What can you do with berries?

One of my favorite things to do with strawberries is to roast them! I swear to God—a roasted strawberry is beyond divine! At a dinner recently, I served roasted strawberries on top of some coconut sorbet. My guests, who are not “healthy eaters,” thought they had a religious experience! 

I roasted the berries at 250 degrees. Their flavors become so condensed and intense as they shrink. Plus everyone got to smell the roasting berries, an intoxicating pleasure in itself. Talk about a conversation piece!

The secret sauce is Pomegranate Molasses. You can try my recipe here. Prefer not to make it? Buy it here. 

Another hot berry option is blueberry compote, which you can drape on just about everything. Just water and blueberries, cooked down for about 15 minutes, kind of a reduction, with intense, concentrated flavor. (Shown above with Best Oatmeal Ever from The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen). 

Strawberries are such a lovely surprise in salad! In addition to having lovely color and an incredibly sweet taste, strawberries have anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, when combined with arugula, mint and a lemony balsamic vinaigrette, they make for a salad that feels like a taste explosion! 

Pomegranate juice might just be the gateway to eternal life, with longevity properties esteemed for about 5,000 years. In this dreamy drink I’ve smoothed out pomegranate’s somewhat assertive, tart taste with musky hibiscus and sweet strawberries, blueberries and orange slices to make something akin to Middle Eastern sangria. I think the ancients were on to something.