Berries & Herb = A Journey to Discovering New Favorite Pies and Jams
We don’t usually think to pair herbs with strawberries, blackberries, raspberries or blueberries but adding savory herbs like mint, thyme, rosemary can take blueberry pie or blackberry cobbler—not to mention fresh strawberries and raspberry jam—from pretty good to prize-winning.
Harnessing the aromatic flavors of herbs with the sweet delicate flavors of berries isn’t tricky, but it is a balancing act. Rosemary and sage can take over, lavender can go from light perfume to heavy soap, and mint can make a mouthwash of dessert. For an entire berry pie (5-6 cups of fruit) or a small batch of jam (32 – 36 oz of berries), you’ll use 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons depending on the herb. As you experiment, remember that it’s easier to add herbs than take them away.
I tested ten common herbs in combination with Driscoll’s blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries to figure out some rules of thumb for herb and berry experiments. Along the way I discovered some great surprises, clear duds, and new classics. Note that I baked the blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries with the herbs, but used fresh strawberries for testing because I think they taste better that way. Here’s what worked and what didn’t:
- Blackberries: These herb pairings tended to work best as jams, though a few pie-flavors did emerge. Delicious with mint, which made the blackberries sweeter; try 2 tablespoons chopped roughly into a full pie. Basil was lovely too; a heavier hand will be rewarded here, so try ¼ cup chopped basil in a full pie. Oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme all added heavier notes to the fruit, which is great for jams; try 1 tablespoon of any of these herbs chopped very fine in a batch of jam or one pie. If you like licorice flavors, tarragon will make good jam; the flavor can be invasive, so try 1 teaspoon in a batch to start. Don’t bother with lavender; blackberries are too assertive to make a good match. Bay could make a good jam, but I preferred the tastes of oregano and rosemary. Marjoram was unremarkable. I wouldn’t bother with it.
- Raspberries: When raspberry and herbs match, it’s magical. When they don’t, it’s disastrous. Thyme, basil, oregano, and bay were extremely good, and would work well as pie or jam—which means their flavors were strong, but didn’t become cloying over time. Use 2-3 teaspoons of chopped thyme or oreganoin a pie, 2 tablespoons of chopped basil, or macerate pie filling with a 2-3 bay leaves overnight and remove the leaves before baking. Mintwas surprisingly good; it won’t be everyone’s favorite, but to those with a taste for it, it will be refreshing and new; try 1 tablespoon in a pie or batch of jam. Sage and rosemary make good jam, but are overpowering as pie; try 2-3 teaspoons of finely chopped herb in a jam batch. Lavender, marjoram, and tarragon were unsalvageable combinations and should, for the love of fruit, be avoided.
- Blueberries: This milder berry wins the award for most versatile; it worked wonderfully with everything but mint. Lavender was my absolute favorite—it lightly perfumed the berries and made them sweeter somehow. Try 1 finely chopped teaspoon in a batch of pie or jam. Thyme was equally good, but in a sharp sort of way that also helped the sweet come through. Try 2-3 teaspoons, finely chopped, in a pie or jam. Oregano, marjoram, rosemary, basil, and sage all make excellent jam (I’ve ordered them according to my preference). Try 3-4 teaspoons (or 2 tablespoons, if you’d like a strong herb flavor for the jam), finely chopped. Bay, too, would make a delicious jam. Try 2-3 leaves macerated overnight and cooked with the jam. Tarragon is, again, a flavor only for those who like licorice, but it pairs well with blueberries in small amounts; try one tablespoon chopped finely in a batch of jam.
- Strawberries: To make any of these combinations, slice 16 ounces of Driscoll’s strawberries into a bowl, add ¼ cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and 1-2 teaspoons of the chopped fresh herb of your choice. Stir and let sit for 20 minutes. Serve room temperature. I found that the softer, delicate herbs were wonderful with strawberries; the woodier, more wintry herbs didn’t work at all. I highly recommend chopped mint, basil and lavender, which add surprising depth to a bowl of strawberries. Skip the rest of them, especially tarragon and sage, which clash completely with strawberry’s bright flavors.
- Use herbs that are as fresh as your berries.
- Chop hardy herbs like sage, rosemary, and thyme as fine as possible. Soft herbs like basil and mint are fine when simply cut with herb scissors and given a rough chop.
- Mint, lavender, thyme, and rosemary didn’t work for everything, but when they did, they were out of this world.
- Oregano was the surprise hit: in all four fruits, it added depth without taking over.
- Thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, sage, and bay made the best jams. These herbs were pungent and added a savory edge to the sweet fruit, making them delicious with a slice of brie, but maybe too strong for an entire pie, depending on the berry.
- Mint, lavender, oregano, and bay made the best pie fillings, depending on the berry. They enhanced the sweetness of the fruit without becoming cloying.
- Basil has long been associated with fruit pairings, and for good reason. But I found that though it worked with all the berries, it was never a crowd favorite compared to mint, lavender, or rosemary.
- When tarragon doesn’t work, it really, really doesn’t work.
- Marjoram often tasted much like oregano, but not as good or as strong. My advice is to pick oregano instead.
- Mint is either fantastic or terrible, no in between.
- Lavender buds straight from the garden will work, but culinary lavender is superior. I get mine from Pelindaba Farms.
- Worth further experimentation: lemon verbena, rose geranium, anise hyssop, lemon thyme, and shiso.
- If you try any of these, or if you have suggestions for further experiments, let us know in the comments!