Other Names: Agracejo (Spanish); berberis (Arabic); berbery; ├ępine vinette (French); European berberry; holy thorn; pipperidge bush; sowberry; zereshk (Farsi).

General Description: Barberries (Berberis vulgaris) grow in elongated clusters; when dried the bright red berries resemble miniature red currants and are used in cooking for their pleasantly acidic taste and fruity aroma. There are many species of the genus Berberis, some of which are poisonous. Because barberry is host to a type of rust that affects wheat, it has long been unpopular with farmers; it was responsible for famines in early tenth-century Spain. Early American settlers preserved barberries in syrup or vinegar and made them into jelly. Confiture d’├ępine vinette, a celebrated French jam that’s a specialty of Rouen and Dijon, is made from a seedless form of barberry; a liqueur is made from this seedless variety, too. In Afghan and Iranian cooking, barberry flavors rice dishes, and in Iran it’s used in kookoo-ye sabzi (an herb omelet) and polow (rice pilaf). In India, pickled barberries are served with curries or used like raisins in desserts.

Purchase and Avoid: Purchase dried barberries only from a reputable merchant, because some species are poisonous. Look for moist, red to dark red dried barberries; the red color darkens with age as they oxidize.

Storage: Store airtight in the freezer to maintain bright color and freshness.

Serving Suggestions: Add to stewed fruits or to apple pie filling. Substitute a few barberries for raisins in fruitcakes and pies.

Food Affinities: Almond, apple, chicken, duck, game, lamb, onion, orange, rice, saffron, veal, venison, yogurt.

from Quirk Books: