If I had to pick my favorite thing about summer, it’d be hard to choose between berries, stone fruits, and tomatoes. But why go for just one? Now is the time to eat so many of each, to so sate yourself with their in-season goodness, that you won’t be tempted by a sub-par specimen in the off-season.
So then, a few tips for buying and using berries right now, during this delicious time of year.
1. Shop now.
Strawberry season is May to August. And for blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries, it’s June to September.
2. Shop at the farmers market.
I don’t say this because I think berries are better at the farmers market, although I do. I say it because at the farmers market you can try before you buy.
3. Shop with your eyes.
Berries should be plump but firm, with intense color and no signs of dehydration or mold.
4. Shop with your nose.
When you can’t taste before buying, go by smell. Pick up a basket and give them a sniff. If they don’t smell like berries, they’re definitely not going to taste like berries.
5. Store them properly.
Berries are delicate, and the ones on the top of the basket can crush the ones on the bottom. So once you get them home, arrange your berries in a single layer in a paper towel-lined container, then refrigerate.
6. Don’t rinse them right away.
Berries have lots of nooks and crannies, and water lodged there can make for quicker degradation. So rinse just before using.
7. Use them right away.
Berries have a relatively short shelf life, so enjoy them quickly.
8. Buy extra and freeze them for later.
The best way to avoid sub-par berries in the winter is to have perfect summer berries in the freezer. Arrange your berries in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, freeze them, then transfer them to a resealable bag and store the bag in the freezer—this way, the berries will be individually frozen and you can use as many or as few as you like (if you just toss them in a bag and freeze, they’ll freeze in a clump and you’ll have to use all or none). Once defrosted, your berries might be a bit mushy, so use them in places where they’d get mushy anyway, like a pie or a smoothie.
Some great ways to use berries:
• In a smoothie
• In a pie, muffin, or cake
• With yogurt and granola
• In a salad (try my Spinach Salad with Chicken, Strawberries, Blue Cheese, and Almonds in the current issue of Fine Cooking, pictured)
• In or over ice cream or sorbet
• In a cold soup
• In a cocktail (try Sean Timberlake’s Strawberry Vodka. To. Die. For.)
• In a pan sauce (sweet berries go great with savory meats and poultry)
• Or just as is, for a snack
What about you? What are your favorite ways to enjoy berries?
Still hungry? Join me July 8 for Berry Delicious, a hands-on cooking class at Ramekins in Sonoma.