Falling in Love with Fresh Berries
May, 2014 · By Coryanne Ettiene
I am a fool for berries and have been since the age of 7 when my mother took me foraging in the Oregon woods on a brilliantly sunny summer afternoon. I could not resist their delicate sweetness bursting in my mouth, and paid little attention to my stained fingertips, or my new gingham dress for that matter. I rarely see a berry and not think of that afternoon spent with my mother, it is one of those childhood memories that lingers and resurfaces to bring you those warm fuzzy feelings that only come when food and family intersect.
One would not think that London could offer a similar childhood memory, but our London was a green belt pocket with wide-open spaces, many of which offered rolling hills of wild berry bushes. For years our summer walks along those paths would involve watching the berries ripen until finally they children were able to pick them as we strolled the common…I remember the anticipation they felt waiting for them to ripen, and the giggles that would arrive when their fingertips were stained and their bellies full. As much as I cherish this memory, I had no idea my daughter shared this sentiment until she retold her version while we prepared our first bundle of spring berries on our first year in the US. The pie we had planned to make was quickly forgotten, and suddenly we were two fools strolling down memory lane, nibbling on fresh berries while our fingertips stained.
This year, like every year around this time, we find ourselves greedy for fresh berries, bundling up on way too many cartons, and then over indulging in this splendid summer tradition. But we are careful when selecting our fresh berries because bringing home the wrong berries, or not caring from them properly once home is like tossing money out the window. Finding the perfect berry goes well beyond first impressions, here are a few tips to get the most out of the summer berry season that will help you find, store and enjoy fresh berries.
- Timing is everything: Early spring berries, while exciting, still lack the full punch of a seasonal summer berry. Your best berry arrives in late June, early July. But you can still find amazing berries in May.
- Location, Location, Location: Farm fresh berries are amazing, but if buying them from a market or farm shop, be sure to buy berries stored in the shade. Sunlight and warm temperatures speed up the decay process of picked berries.
- What to look for: The perfect berry is plump, firm, shiny and fragrant. The smaller the berry, the more flavor it will have, this is especially true of strawberries. And if you are buying strawberries, look for those that are red from tip to top as strawberries whites, remain white throughout the ripening process.
- Carton Sense: The prefect carton has plenty of empty space. The more compact your berries are, the more likely they will contain mold, decay or damage. Avoid cartons with stains or damaged fruit; this is a sure sign that your berries are already decaying.
- Storage: Once home, remove your berries from their packaging, and delicately rinse with room temperature water, before patting dry and storing in the fridge for up to 3 days. Be mindful that both moisture and damage will speed up the decaying process when you prepare your berries for storage.
- Freezing: Properly frozen berries will stay fresh for up to 3 months in the freezer. Once clean and dry, place your berries on a sheet of parchment paper and lightly spritz with lemon juice to maintain their vibrant color before freezing for 3 hours. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer safe bag and place is a quite location within your freezer (quite meaning, not under the ice cream carton or where they will be damaged).
You can hardly walk into a Farmer’s Market this time of year and not smell that sweetness wafting up from the berry baskets lining the stalls. If, like me, you always over buy berries this time of year, chilled summer berry soup is a great way to make the most of berries while they are still fresh. Making berry soup is as simple as adding your berries to a blender, adding ice and a splash of simple syrup and blending until smooth. Pour into a chilled glass with a handful of fresh berries and mint sprigs and serve… of course you can always add a splash of booze in there to make it a berry good party.
Here are a few more ideas to make the most of your weekend purchases. And if you need more, I have over 80 pins on my Berries Board.
- Eton Mess: My husband loves this summer pudding, making it a favorite in our home. Not to be confused with the ‘fool’ desert often served here in the US, this is delicate blend of meringue, cream and crushed berries that offers both crunch and cream in every bite.
- Sparkling Fruit Punch: My children call this the “KiddieGria” because it has all the charm of the grown up Sangria without the booze. Equal parts of sparkling water and cranberry juice accented with fresh frozen raspberries, orange wheels and pomegranate seeds give this mocktail a modern and healthy twist on the classic childhood favorite. It goes without saying that with a dash of ….Vodka….you can turn this it to a fabulous cocktail punch (but I am sure your mind was already spinning in that direction…..no wonder we get along so well).
- Peek-a-boo Pies: Mini pies with a lazy crust make this effortless to prepare, simply line your pie dish, fill with berries, then add a few strips of pastry on the top for a rustic finish, bake until the crust is golden brown.
- Boozey Berries: One can’t mention berries, without mentioning that they can be just as boozey as the next fruit. Clean and dry your fresh berries and then soak them in your favorite tipple — enough to dampen them, not completely submerge them — for an hour, then transfer to a sheet of parchment paper, freeze for an hour and then use as ice cubes in your next cocktail…or straight from the freezer for a mischievous evening snack.
- Easy Compote: Who doesn’t love a quick jam? Add sugar, water, orange juice and fresh berries to a pot and simmer until it thickens. Serve hot on pancakes or chilled as an ice cream topping.