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British berries – the window of opportunity

With the intense summer weather comes a change in diner habits. Lighter dishes naturally come to the fore with a focus on freshness and brightness over depth and savouriness. The days of sturdy British root vegetables are now firmly in the rear-view mirror and what lies before us is an abundance of summer freshness. The brightest star in the produce line-up is undoubtedly British berries.
It seems almost every week a new fruit comes into its prime and any gluts during this season should be grabbed with both hands. Savvy chefs are the ones who can capitalise on this exciting harvest and enjoy the bounty long into autumn if they play their cards right. Whether it’s gooseberries, redcurrants, raspberries or the classic British strawberry, there are countless ways to bring these intense, sharp, sweet flavours through your entire menu.
First off, is the meteoric rise of açai and smoothie bowls. While açai, the Brazilian super fruit, has paved the way for this lusted-after dish, it is by no means essential. By blending your fresh or frozen red berry fruits with frozen banana you create a soft serve ice-cream-like textured puree. This is often loosened and enriched with things like nut butters, and alternative milks like coconut or almond. So far, so fresh, but the customisation of the dish is in it’s toppings which always features things like fresh blueberries, granola, sliced strawberries, coconut flakes and a drizzle of honey. While this vibrant, vividly coloured dish has become a hipster breakfast-brunch icon, it also has high potential at dinner service, particularly at food operations that serve fitness focused crowds such as jiu-jitsu, cross fit and yoga.
American style stacks of pancakes are also another solid menu item through summer months and adorning them with slightly sharper berries like raspberry works to balance out the sweetness of maple syrup. Of course, jams also come into play at the increasingly popular ‘brunch’ too and we’re seeing some incredibly exciting house made preserves appearing such as blueberry, orange and cardamom.
But it’s not just breakfast where berries come into their own. Gooseberries in particular, with their delicious tartness marry particularly well with pork dishes and can work to create fantastic marinades due to their inherent acidity helping to tenderise the meat. On this note, they also have potential for curing lightly in carpaccios or even ceviche style plates. Blackcurrants are another sharp staple with meat dishes and tend to work very well with heavier, fuller flavoured game meats. However, we are a few months off welcoming game into the kitchen, and so foresight needs to be given by way of preserving.
Chutneys and preserves that are knocked up in the kitchen now can benefit from aging ready for those colder months when things like venison, pheasant and duck begin to hit the menu. But you needn’t wait that long to start playing with your summer fruit preserves and chutneys as the cheese board is a perennial favourite that begs for this sweet contrast all year round.
So while the weather is warm and British berries begin to present themselves, the smart chef should pounce. Capturing the intensity of these fruits in season not only freshens up your game for the summer, but can arm you with all the brightness and freshness of the season to see you through the colder months to come.