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Reveling in raspberries

07/19/03 12:00AM By Vern Grubinger
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(Host) Raspberries are ripening all over Vermont and commentator Vern Grubinger has an appreciation of this seasonal favorite.

(Grubinger) The raspberry is one of nature's perfect foods: it's tasty and healthy. There's nothing more mouth watering than a ripe, fresh picked raspberry, but this fruit also makes delicious jams and desserts.

Unlike so many other treats, raspberries are little bombshells of health. They contain a lot of vitamin C, plus smaller amounts of a dozen vitamins and minerals. Recently, raspberries have been shown to contain ellagic acid, which is a cancer preventing compound. One cup of raspberries contains nearly 4 grams of fiber and just 61 calories.

The raspberry plant is a member of the Rose family. There are several types of raspberries: red, black, purple, and yellow. Red raspberries are more cold hardy than the other types, and there are more red varieties to choose from. Each variety has its pros and cons. Taylor is the best tasting, but susceptible to diseases. Boyne is the hardiest, but the berries are soft. Newburgh and Killarney are some other varieties hardy enough for Vermont. Purple raspberries are hybrids of red and black raspberries with a growth habit similar to black raspberries. Yellow raspberries grow pretty much like red raspberries.

Raspberries are perennial, but individual canes live just two years. The summer-bearing red raspberries that most people are familiar with produce their crop only on 2-year old canes. Newer, ever-bearing varieties can produce a fall crop on their first-year canes. But often these varieties fail to ripen in time to avoid Vermont's early fall frosts.

The red raspberry is indigenous to both Asia Minor and North America. The Romans may have been the first to domesticate the raspberry, as early as the fourth century. In Medieval times, wild berries were used for food and medicine, and the juice was used for painting. In the 13th century King Edward the first of England promoted the cultivation of berries and by the 17th century berry bushes were abundant in British gardens.

When European settlers came to America, they found Native Americans already eating wild berries, often drying them for preservation and ease of transportation. The first commercial raspberry nursery in the U.S. started selling plants imported from Europe in 1771. By 1867 over 40 different varieties were known.

After the Civil War, major production areas were developed and by 1880, approximately 2,000 acres were in cultivation. By 1919, production had risen to 54,000 acres, peaking at around 60,000 acres in mid-century. Today, with improved varieties and horticultural practices, raspberry production is more intensive than in the past. Yields now average over 3 tons per acre nationwide.

The leading red raspberry growing areas are Washington, Oregon and California, and most of this production is for processing. In New England, freshly harvested raspberries are an important crop for pick-your-own farms and retail stands that sell the highest quality produce directly to the consumer.

With an ear to the ground, this is Vern Grubinger.

Vern Grubinger is the Director of the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the vegetable and berry specialist for UVM Extension.
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