At our house, the arrival of fresh berries always is a highly anticipated event, whether we’re gathering wild berries, harvesting our own fresh from the garden, or buying them at our local farmers’ market or favorite store. Eaten just as they are, berries are delicious, with all the appeal of a snack food—just rinse and chow down. When the summer sun brings their flavor to peak perfection, fresh-picked berries are undoubtedly one of the highlights of the season. And whether used fresh in salads or cooked in recipes from appetizers to desserts, berries elevate the taste of just about any food.
• Cranberry-Cornmeal Muffins
• Healthy Blueberry Smoothie
• Sautéed Salmon with Blackberry Sauce
• Baby Greens Salad with Strawberries and Strawberry-Balsamic Dressing
• Blueberry Cobbler
• Triple Berry Sorbet
• Raspberry Cheesecake
• 3 Summertime Treats
Health Benefits of Berries
Besides being delicious, berries are healthful. Berries are brimming with an overwhelming number of beneficial compounds, such as anthocyanins, catechins, quercetin, ellagic acid and pterostilbene, a relative of the powerful antioxidant resveratrol found in grapes and red wine. These naturally occurring substances help neutralize free radicals—unstable oxygen molecules that damage body cells in ways that lead to disease and aging. The numerous phytochemicals present in berries also offer further health benefits with preventive, protective and other functional properties. In fact, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries and raspberries possess some of the highest antioxidant capacities among fresh fruits.
In addition to offering a storehouse of phytochemicals, berries also are packed with dietary fiber—nondigestible carbohydrates and lignins that help support digestion and bowel regularity as well as maintain normal blood sugar, cholesterol levels and a healthy heart. Beneficial nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, calcium and folic acid also are “berried treasures” found within these tasty fruits. Simply put, eating berries on a regular basis might just be your hedge against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, Alzheimer’s and other chronic and degenerative diseases. Now that’s something worth chewing on.
Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries are universal favorites and are readily available most of the year (summer is the peak season). You might be able to find locally grown berries as early as March all the way through December, depending on the berry and growing region. Fresh cranberries always are a holiday hit and generally are available from September through December.
When buying berries, let your eyes and nose be your guide. Look for plump, brightly colored berries showing no signs of mold, dehydration or being crushed—a sure sign of fruit that either is stored improperly, stored too long or is overripe. Truly flavorful and ripe berries should be fragrant, so pick up a basket and take a whiff—berries should smell as good as they taste.
How to Store Berries
Fresh berries are best enjoyed right away or, at the very least, within a day or two of purchase. Unwashed berries will keep for up to five days in the refrigerator when stored in a colander or breathable snap-and-seal-type bag. (Strawberries are best stored with their hulls intact.) Do not rinse berries until you are ready to use them.
Having an excess of berries due to a bountiful harvest or buying in bulk is a bonus, because you always can freeze the surplus. Rinse ripe berries (hull strawberries) and allow them to drain thoroughly before freezing; “flash freeze” by placing berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet; place the cookie sheet in the freezer for 24 hours; then pour individually frozen berries into an airtight freezer bag or container. The berries will remain loose so you can take out just the right amount for pancakes or muffins, or sprinkle a few on hot or cold cereal for a flavorful and healthful way to start your day.
Kris Wetherbee is a freelance writer and frequent contributor. She lives in the hills of western Oregon with her photographer husband, Rick Wetherbee. Visit her website at Rick & Kris Wetherbee.