“A good berry picker moves with her hands, not her feet.” The words have been emblazoned into my mind from years of driving up the dirt road to the berry patch at Macomber Farm. I can still see Mr. Macomber whizzing down the path on his clunky mountain bike, all wheels and spokes, a cloud of dust trailing behind him to meet me by the fence and the “Pick UR Own” sign. Strewn on the picnic table, an inviting stack of green paper baskets would be waiting to be filled to the brim with the ripe berries of the moment.
Even today, as I approach a different farmer, questions dart through my mind: Will he have any strawberries left? Are the raspberries ripe yet? When do the blueberries usually come in, again? How many berries is too many to eat in the field? Damn it, did I leave my sun hat in the car? Yes, I am sure I did.
Summer is the time to relish fresh berries. Late-May to mid-June and strawberries are off the charts. Then they they leave a hole in your heart as they reboot their new growing cycle, all green leaves and pristine white blossoms until the next round. Meanwhile, the blueberries take their sweet time transforming from tiny tart green stones to luscious purple-gray fruit. (I mean really, now, can you call that color blue?)
In between, though, the raspberries deliver their floral poignancy, their delicate perfume and constitution, their piqued sweet-and-tart juiciness incessantly calling from the kitchen counter until they are either overripe or all gone. It’s a glorious moment, made even better by the fact that I am no longer stumped about exactly how to wash them without a making pink sopping mess in the colander. (This article from the Kitchn can show you how.)
You don’t see a lot of whole, fresh raspberries featured in cooking and cocktail recipes, and there’s a reason – they’re delicate and sensitive. They smash and bruise easily, and, unless you’re buying them pre-packed and from far away in those tiny plastic cartons from the grocery store, they don’t transport particularly well either.
But those aren’t the kind of raspberries I’m talking about. I’m interested in the ones picked on the farm a few hours before you eat them, still warm from the sun and waiting to be gobbled down by the lucky pals who cross your path as you make your way from the field to the kitchen. (Those lucky, lucky souls.)
Be sure to save some, though, because fresh raspberries pair extraordinarily well with mezcal – the acidity of the raspberries fills out the body of the woody smoke and minerality of the liquor. Sweet, tart, smoky – it’s a winning combination. And since I’ve deemed this to be The Summer of Mezcal, those remaining raspberries are in luck.
I’m determined to share the good news of this smoky agave spirit with anyone willing to sip and listen patiently to their taste buds. Sure, if you’re not big on smokey flavor, this may not be your favorite spirit, but I dare you to savor an ounce all to yourself and get lost in the layers of earth, smoke, heat, and the way it coats your senses. You will not be disappointed by this experience.
In Mexico, mezcal is considered medicine, a cure-all to ameliorate anything from flu symptoms or an upset stomach to a hangover. (I know, it seems counterintuitive.) Mezcal is made from the piña, or heart, of the maguey plant, roasted in an earthen or stone oven (usually in the ground) then mashed, fermented, and distilled. The result is a most pungent, earthy-smoked character.
A light euphoria washes over the senses as you sip and grasp at each tasting note of the mezcal, from BBQ to the salt in an ocean breeze to rich oily aromatics that coat the palate.
My favorite mezcal cocktail is the Raspberry Frezcal. I know it sounds Seussian, but it’s the name that’s stuck, summer after summer, when the fresh berries come in. Frezcal is like the older sister of frosé (yes, that’s frozen blended rose) that only leaves the house in kitten heels – vibrant, pink, frothy, and a bit of an ice queen. I love Raspberry Frezcal.
Best of all, there’s no need to fuss about preserving those perfect raspberries because – guess what? – they’ll make their way into the blender and tango with mezcal, fresh lime, orange, and ice, becoming whipped into a smooth, frozen state.
Where it comes to Frezcal, the fresher the raspberries the better: Make a morning out of raspberry picking and, by the time you get home, it’ll be time for a refreshing beverage – Raspberry Frezcals, to be precise. With the leftover berries, make slushies for the kids (senza mezcal, of course) – they’re the perfect summertime mocktail.
juice of half an orange*
juice of half a lime
1 1/2 ounces mezcal (I <3 Pelotón de la Muerte)
1 cup ice
cilantro, for garnish (note: flowering cilantro is particularly aromatic)
*Kombucha may be substituted for the fresh orange juice if you’re feeling sassy. I love Frezcal with hibiscus-ginger kombucha – watch the sparks fly.
To prepare, combine fresh citrus juices, raspberries, mezcal, and ice in a blender and pulse for a few seconds. Then blend on high for 10 seconds and taste for sweetness. Add raspberries to taste, or to make a darker pink concoction. Pour the mixture into a chilled goblet or wine glass and garnish with fresh cilantro.
Many thanks to Sweet Berry Farm, Kat Cummings, baby Amon and Emelyn Daly for playing the muse!