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The Berry Bible
by Janie Hibler

Reviewed by Elliot Essman

Back before I learned that my body could wear out, I was a serious runner. I would risk death rather than slow for automobile traffic and reduce my pulse rate. One day I hit my stride on a country road, concentrating, reaching my pace, but I could hardly miss the spreads of blackberries dotting the greenery. On the return trip I walked down my heart rate and popped a berry into my mouth. Of course I gorged myself and had to walk the rest of the way.

I can think of only a handful of wild berry episodes in my life—all wonderful. You sometimes get good berries at farm stands and supermarkets; often you don’t. Even a good market berry is only a hint of what ought to be. But still we try. It helps then to have an all-encompassing printed resource like The Berry Bible by Janie Hibler. The book has given me plenty of ideas on getting the most out of the berries available to me every day—even frozen berries—and it has given me new impetus to get out into the country and go after the real thing (of course, knowing better now, I will walk, not run).

Being a thorough person—okay, compulsive—I really enjoyed Hibler’s “A-to-Z Berry Encyclopedia,” which details berries we all know (raspberries, strawberries), and many we don’t know well (barberries, jostaberries). Wild berries being unpredictable, science and agri-business have frequently crossed, re-crossed and developed commercially viable varieties like the boysenberry and loganberry, both blackberry variants. The “Encyclopedia” explains each of these cultivars and how they were developed. “Thornlessness,” it seems, has long been a commercial ideal, but berries are also developed for keeping power and ease of processing.

Among the wild bunch, the sub-arctic cloudberry has long fascinated me. It has a unique musky flavor and is charged with vitamin C (which I still have a spasmodic tendency to believe is “good” for me). Indigenous peoples in the North American arctic gather these, as do Scandinavians. Bears are said to adore cloudberries, although I have read elsewhere that perhaps this is a myth, spread by clever rural Swedes as a means of dissuading city-folk from competing for these rare gems. If you don’t want to risk running into bears or Swedes, you can always purchase a precious jar of cloudberry jam from a specialty house.

The bulk of The Berry Bible is taken up with recipes, divided into “Coolers, Cocktails, Smoothies, and Other Drinks,” “Breads,” “Soups and Salads,” “Main Courses,” and “Sauces.” The “Homemade Berry Liqueur” looks like something I’d like to try. “Chilled Blackberry-Lime Soup” has to be amazingly refreshing. Before we get to these, however, Hibler gives us several pages of “Berry Basics,” dealing with techniques for washing berries, making purees, drying berries, straining berries even removing berry stains. There's an excellent section on "Putting Berries By" for those of you with extra berries you don't want to gobble up just yet. Preserves and jellies are covered as you'd expect, but you can also try your hand at "Raspberry Pastilles" if candy-making inspires you. The book has something for everyone, but above all, it treats berries with reverence. It is as complete as any book that claims to be a "Bible" should be. Top -- Culinary Reviews Home

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