What's In Season: Berries

What's In Season: Berries

Berries are one of our most perfect foods. With splendid flavor while also being really good for us, they're packed with vitamins and antioxidants while also low in calories. But most of all, berries are like nature's jewels: individual, precious, and uncommon.

How To Buy And Store Berries

Beautiful, just-picked berries are easy to spot. There's a simultaneous perfection/imperfection to them, distinguishing them from the all-perfect-all-the-time ones sold year-round in our grocery stores.

Choose ones that have beautiful and intense color, that are firm and fragrant, and if you can, ask for a taste so you know how sweet they are. At the height of the berry season, you may also find berries that are unfamiliar -- such as golden yellow raspberries. You won't know if you love them unless you buy, eat, and maybe cook with them so be adventuresome.

Seasonal berries are fragile and highly perishable so treat them with care. Blueberries should be rinsed just before eating or cooking with them. But raspberries and blackberries -- I don't rinse them at all. If you're worried about food sanitation, keep in mind that rinsing with water does not sanitize food; it only removes surface dirt (only cooking with heat can destroy bacteria). When you rinse a delicate raspberry or blackberry that has been picked by hand, the water will immediately penetrate the fragile skin and the berry will begin to disintegrate. Instead, just carefully sort through the berries and remove any damaged ones, or any errant bits of leaf or stem.

Try not to buy berries more than a day or two before you plan to eat or cook with them. As for storing, the best thing to do is leave the berries unwashed and at room temperature, out of the sun. But this really only works if you plan to eat them within 24-hours. Otherwise, still leaving them unwashed and in the container in which you bought them, wrap them loosely in a plastic bag and refrigerate. But remember that with every day the berries stay stored and chilled, they will lose some flavor. The most compelling proof of this is how remarkable a berry tastes right as it's been picked and tossed into your mouth. There is nothing that will improve on that flavor and the further the berry is from its vine, the lesser its intensity.

It's easy to freeze berries, and if you have a big enough freezer, it's one of the best flavors to capture and keep for winter when a batch of muffins or pancakes made with defrosted local blueberries will be a real treat. That said, the best way to freeze berries is to scatter them in a single layer on a baking sheet (if blueberries -- wash them first; if raspberries or blackberries, just pick through for any debris or little leaves). Freeze until the fruit is solid and then transfer the berries to freezer-proof bags and use them within six months. I've never had a freezer big enough to do this, but I've seen it done and the prize is that the berries stay individual and intact instead of crushing together.

For most recipes you should use the berries still frozen, without defrosting because as the berries thaw they'll disintegrate and become a mush. So if making muffins or pancakes, just add the berries, still frozen solid, to the batter, being gentle with them at every step of the cooking.

Easy Berry Desserts

If you want something more elaborate than a bowl of fresh berries with a sprinkle of sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, one of the easiest ways to add local, in-season berries to a dessert is to turn them into a sauce. Here are two methods for making fruit sauce -- one is cooked and the other is raw -- but both have huge flavor and taste like summer.

What To Do With Berry Sauces

Whether cooked or raw, fresh berry sauces are very versatile:

Other Berry Dishes

Other easy ways to enjoy summer berries include:

If red currants are a favorite you'll enjoy a piece from David Lebovitz that shows how he used an early summer bounty of these precious, ruby berries to cure, well, whatever was ailing him.  See our link below.






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