Press-Republican

June 26, 2012

Berry season under way

By JORDY KIVETT, Good For You
Press-Republican

---- — If you enjoy berries, start looking for fresh, locally grown varieties now. 

Strawberries, as well as some raspberries, are ripening at orchards and in the wild. Blueberries and blackberries will follow a little later this summer.

Strawberries are delicious in smoothies, as a cereal topping and in countless other ways. Eight medium strawberries have 50 calories, 2 grams of fiber (11 grams of carbohydrates) and 160 percent of the daily value of vitamin C.

Blueberries paired with peanut butter in a sandwich or added to pancakes are a great snack. One cup of blueberries has 100 calories and 3 grams of fiber. They are said to be very high in antioxidants, which reduce your risk for certain cancers and heart disease.

Raspberries come in a variety of colors, often red, but also black and gold. One cup of the fruit contains 50 calories, 8 grams of fiber and 40 percent daily value of vitamin C.

Blackberries differ from raspberries, both in taste and firmness. They have 60 calories per cup, 7 grams of fiber and 50 percent daily value of vitamin C.

If you know of spots where these fruits grow in the wild, you’re in luck, as they will be free. Wild fruit tends to be smaller but packs a big flavor. 

If you would like to pick but do not have access to wild berries, the area offers some wonderful pick-your-own operations where the fruit is plentiful and the picking is easy. Even just an hour will yield more berries than you can eat fresh. 

Or, if you would like to just get to eating, visit farm stands and farmers markets for the goods.

HANDLING AND STORING

Once berries are picked, they should be refrigerated, as they will spoil quickly. Don’t rinse them until just before use, since the water can cause them to become mushy if left to sit. 

The most delicate berries, raspberries and strawberries, should really be used in one to two days, while blackberries will last almost a week and blueberries up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

If you want to store berries, they can be easily frozen. Rinse the berries, pat dry, remove stems if applicable, and they are ready to freeze. Your method of freezing may depend on your future plans for the berries. Freezer bags work great, since you can get more air out from loosely packed items than freezer containers. 

To freeze berries loosely for individual smoothie or parfait servings, place them on a waxed-paper lined baking sheet and put it in the freezer. Once frozen, add the berries to a larger freezer bag. Another method is to freeze them in a flat, single layer in a freezer bag. Try to keep frozen foods exposed to as little air as possible. A simple trick is to suck the extra air out of the freezer bags with a straw, especially if you are freezing many bags to use over a few months. If you will be thawing the whole bag at once, for something like strawberry shortcake, cut or slice the berries if desired, and pile them in. 

Berries are a high-acid food, so they are good candidates to be canned using a boiling-water canning method. Any improperly canned product can be dangerous, so be sure to use the right equipment and current recipes. You can find recipes through your local extension office or through canning books at your local library. Recipes for freezer jams are also available, an option for those who would like to make jam but are not interested in canning.