The British berry season has begun, with delicious fruits now available to buy.
But strawberries, blueberries and raspberries taste best of all when you grow your own. When ripe berries are freshly picked and eaten straight away, the flavour is superb.
Growing your own soft fruit reduces packaging and your carbon footprint – and could save you money. As an added bonus, strawberry, blueberry and raspberry plants all produce nectar-rich flowers that can help support struggling pollinator populations.
Strawberries are easy to grow, and are particularly suited to containers or hanging baskets – just give them a sunny, sheltered spot and keep them well watered.
Strawberry plants should produce a decent crop every summer for several years – so they’re a cost-effective way to enjoy this delicious fruit. Choose a mixture of early, mid and late-fruiting varieties for a continuous crop all summer. Good varieties include Honeoye (early), Elsanta (mid) and Florence (late). You can also buy ‘everbearing’ varieties, such as Malling Opal, that crop all summer. These do well in colder regions, so are ideal for Peak District gardens.
In late summer, strawberry plants produce runners – baby plants that grow out from the parent plant on long, thin stems. For free, tasty fruits next summer, pin these into pots of compost, without cutting the stems. Once the runner has formed roots, you can detach it from the parent plant.
Strawberries are at their best served simply with fresh cream – or try topping scones, shortbread or meringue nests with whipped cream and sliced strawberries.
Another berry that’s easy to grow at home is the blueberry. Supermarket blueberries often come from far-flung places such as Chile – which is surprising, as the plants are actually well-suited to the British climate, and aren’t that hard to grow.
The main requirement of blueberries is acidic soil. There are some places in the UK where this type of soil occurs naturally – the presence of rhododendrons and heathers is often a good sign. Although it’s more common to have non-acidic soil in your garden, some Peak District areas do have naturally acidic soil.
You can buy an acid test kit to check whether your soil is suitable for blueberries. But if it’s not, don’t worry – blueberries grow equally well in tubs of ericaceous compost. Just be sure to keep them well watered.
Blueberries produce fruit between July and September. Good varieties include Earliblue, Bluecrop, and Chandler.
The plants themselves don't need much space – and as well as producing delicious fruit, they have sweetly-scented bell-shaped blossoms in the spring, and leaves that turn red in autumn.
Keeping the pots by the back door is a good idea – the berries are less likely to be pinched by birds, and you can pop out first thing in the morning to gather a handful of blueberries for breakfast! They’re perfect with pancakes and maple syrup.
The health benefits of blueberries are well known – they’re frequently described as a ‘superfood’. The fruits contain anthocyanidins, the compounds that give them their deep purple colour. These compounds are good for heart health and can reduce cholesterol. The powerful antioxidants in blueberries can also boost the immune system.
Raspberries are cheap and easy to grow – and once you’ve planted them, they continue to produce fruit for many years.
Raspberries grow from canes, and can fruit in either summer or autumn. If you grow both varieties, you could be eating raspberries from June until October!
Glen Moy is an early summer variety. Valentina and Glen Ample are mid-summer raspberries, while Autumn Bliss is a popular autumn-fruiting variety. If you don’t have much space, some compact types are suitable for container growing – try Summer Lovers Patio Red, or autumn-fruiting All Gold.
Plant raspberry canes 45cm apart in weed-free soil where they’ll get plenty of sun. Water well.
Summer varieties need to be tied onto sturdy supports or bamboo canes. After fruiting, cut down the old stems (the ones that have just produced fruit) to ground level, to allow new canes to grow for next year’s crop.
Autumn varieties don’t need supporting. All canes should be cut down to ground level in February – new fruiting stems will emerge in spring.
Raspberries have a lower sugar content than many other fruits, so are a good dessert choice if you are trying to watch your sugar or calorie intake. They’re also a good source of vitamin C.
Serve raspberries with cream or ice cream – crumbling some meringue nests over the top will add a little extra sweetness if you need it. Raspberries are an essential ingredient in the classic English dessert, summer pudding, made with juice-soaked bread and mixed summer berries and served with cream. And – especially if you grow your own and find you have a glut – they make great jam.
Raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake
150g butter, melted
350g digestive biscuits
400g cream cheese
280ml double cream
350g white chocolate
This cheesecake can be made in advance and kept overnight in the fridge. Line a deep, 21cm loose-bottomed cake tin with non-stick paper. Crush the digestive biscuits: put them in a large plastic food bag, hold the ends loosely together and bash with the end of a rolling pin until the biscuits resemble breadcrumbs.
Stir in the melted butter, making sure all the biscuit crumbs are well coated, and turn into the cake tin. Press down firmly into the base of the tin using the back of a metal spoon and pop in the fridge to cool.
Reserve a few whole raspberries for decoration. Purée the remaining raspberries in a blender then pass through a sieve to remove the pips. Stir the cream cheese into the raspberry purée and whisk until smooth. Stir in the double cream. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, being careful not to overheat it. Allow to cool slightly before adding to the other ingredients. Mix well.
Pour the mixture over the top of the biscuit base and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon. Return to the fridge overnight to set. When ready to serve, remove carefully from the tin and garnish with fresh raspberries.