raspberry. The fruit of a bramble of the genus Rubus; a berry growing on a prickly plant; as, the black raspberry; the red and the white raspberry. The shrub itself. — Webster, 1882
Preserved tomatoes, damsons, raspberries and other fruits put up in neat buckets and for sale in quantities to suit are among the new and convenient fancy groceries offered this season. — Winona Daily Republican, December 14, 1880
At the end of Mrs. Boast’s delicious 1880 New Year’s dinner, she served biscuits with honey and dried-raspberry sauce (see By the Shores of Silver Lake, Chapter 22, “Happy Winter Days”). Although this is the only mention of raspberries in any published Little House book, the fruit isn’t presented as a novelty.
Laura Ingalls Wilder had originally included raspberries in a Farmer Boy manuscript:
Picking wild red raspberries was not so much fun. They grew in open places in the woods nearer home and Almanzo walked to them with girls. The raspberries were good but a fellow had to be so careful picking, not to mash them and if he jarred or shook his pail, the berries settled so he’d never get it filled. He could hardly pour the raspberries from his small pail into the larger one, that stood on the ground at the end of the berry patch without making them settle. Eliza Jane scolded him for not picking faster. “See! My large pail is nearly full and yours only half full,” she said.
So the next time Almanzo emptied his small pail, he kicked Eliza Jane’s large pail with his toe and down went the berries. When Eliza Jane saw them, she accused Almanzo of jarring her bucket and threatened to get him whipped. But when Mother saw the mess of crushed berries in the pail, she only looked at him. Mother didn’t say a word but it made Almanzo feel ashamed. Mother wanted the berries to put up in the stone preserve jars for winter and they all wanted nice berries to eat now. He had wasted a lot of the berries and he guessed it was pretty mean to do a thing like that.
Many Kingsbury County homesteaders planted raspberries. In her homestead final papers filed in 1885, Eliza Jane Wilder wrote that she had “put in her garden 200 or more raspberry” plants, and while many were killed during the Hard Winter, she planted more each year until final proof. Horace Woodworth planted hundreds of plants, and it may be that some of the “small fruit planted in abundance” as recorded in Charles Ingalls’ homestead file were raspberry plants. The fruit was sold in town, perhaps locally grown; De Smet newspapers in early August 1884 advertised pails of “Fresh raspberries, blueberries, and other fruits at Wilmarth’s.”
Today, one can easily find raspberries that have been freeze-dried, but in the nineteenth century, they were typically dehydrated by evaporation. Western New York, Illinois, and Michigan led the country in dried raspberry production, with most of the tons of dried fruit consumed by western settlers and men working in lumber and mining camps, where fresh fruit was scarce. Commercial fruit-drying ovens were in use shortly after the Civil War. These were rectangular boxes containing a fire box and racks spaced equally throughout the flue so that fruit was equally exposed to the hot air, with adequate ventilation provided for moisture to be expelled. Although there were smaller versions for home use, the farm wife typically would dry her fruit as Caroline Ingalls did, between clean cloths in the sun. Another option would be to dry raspberries in a warm oven, as described here.
To dry raspberries. Raspberries are very nice for winter use, but I find it more convenient to keep them dried than canned. I prepare them by sprinkling sugar over them on plates, and then dry them in the stove oven, after the fire is pretty well down, so as not to scorch them. They are quickly dried, and when done can be packed away in jars or even in thick paper bags. They are excellent for sauce in winter, and make good pies and puddings. The only precautions requisite are not to store them in a damp place, and to cover closely, so as to keep out insects. — Mrs. Olmstead, The Prairie Farmer (June 26, 1886), 412.
One bushel of fresh raspberries yields about nine to ten pounds of dried fruit. Raspberries lose about 4/5 of their weight – or a little more – when drying. Wilder doesn’t tell us whether Mrs. Boast brought dried raspberries to Dakota Territory and prepared her syrup fresh, or if she instead brought one or more bottles of prepared sauce. Both dried and fresh raspberries make similar sauce, the only difference is that fresh raspberries need little (if any) added water, while dried raspberries are usually soaked prior to cooking, with the soaking water used in the recipe. Raspberry sauce is excellent drizzled on biscuits, or try it as a topping for vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Any leftover sauce can be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator for a week or more.
Dried Raspberry Sauce. Soak dried raspberries in tepid water for two to three hours. Stew in same water until soft. Sweeten with sugar before removing from the fire. Stir a little flour into mixture to thicken the juices. – The Prairie Farmer, 1886.
Raspberry Sauce. One-half cupful of butter, one cupful of sugar, one cupful of raspberries, the whites of two eggs. Rub the butter and sugar to a cream, beat the whites of the eggs to a stiff froth, and add to the butter and sugar; mash the raspberries, stir all together until smooth, and serve. — Hattie A. Burr, The Woman Suffrage Cook Book (Boston: Alfred Mudge & Son, c. 1886), 68.
Common Raspberry Sauce. Put three ounces of sugar broken into small lumps, and a wineglass full and a half of water into a small stewpan, and boil them for four or five minutes. Add half a pint of fresh, ripe raspberries, well mashed with the back of a spoon. Mix them with the syrup, and boil them for six or seven minutes; the sauce should then be quite smooth and clear. The quantity of it with these proportions will not be large, but can be increased at pleasure… Wine and cinnamon are commonly added, and [the sauce] is often composed of dried fruit. — Eliza Acton, Modern Cookery for Private Families (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860), 404.
If you want to make a small amount of raspberry sauce for your next Little House party, here’s what I did: Pour a 1.5 ounce packet of dried raspberries in a bowl and add about a half cup water, allowing the berries to soften while you prepare the syrup. Add one cup of sugar to one cup water in a small enamel or stainless steel pan and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Lower the heat to your burner’s lowest setting, and add the softened raspberries, including any juice in the bowl. Use a wooden spoon to crush the berries into the syrup until you have a pulpy, seedy mixture. Remove from heat and continue mashing and stirring. Although most period recipes call for the addition of flour or arrowroot to thicken the sauce, I wanted a clear, jewel-like syrup, so I added no thickener. In fact, you may need to add a little more boiling water as you work, to thin the mixture slightly.
Slowly pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer to remove pulp and seeds, pressing the liquid from the strainer gently with the back of your wooden spoon. Skim off any foam from the surface and serve warm from a small clear pitcher. The sauce will gel as it cools and can be served by the spoonful.
A pint of fresh, washed, and mashed raspberries may be substituted for the dried berries.
dried raspberry sauce (SSL 22)