There are so many reasons to love summer berries: They are sweet reminders of childhood and gorgeous additions to a fruit plate, a salad and especially a cocktail. They make us think about fireworks and poolside fruit salads. They are healthy and delicious, and signify all of the wonders of summertime sunshine.
Berries tend to start their growing season in the springtime, and continue into the early months of fall. Blackberries tend to kick things off in May, followed by strawberries in June and raspberries and blueberries in July. When shopping for berries, look for the fruit with the deepest color for the best flavor (berries will stop ripening once they are off their stems). As for the nutrition value of these bite-sized fruits, berries have been known to benefit heart health, weight control, and even mental sharpness for their antioxidants — making them a great on-the-go snack or addition to your favorite summer recipes.
But these small treats also have a bit of a dark side.
Not only do berries tend to be fairly pricey, they also can go bad quickly — particularly raspberries and strawberries. Perhaps nothing is more frustrating than letting your prized berries go to waste as they succumb to mushiness — or worse: mold. That said, there are things you can do to preserve and even extend the life of your summer strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and beyond.
The right way to wash
As a general rule of thumb, you should wait until right before you’re ready to eat or cook with your berries to wash them, in order to stave off the potential for mold sparked by the water content. After a quick rinse (avoid soaking!), consider giving your berries some extra airflow by straining them in a colander, or spreading them out on a paper towel to allow the water to dry out a bit. (Popping your rinsed berries in the refrigerator for a bit after washing will also help).
… Plus a vinegar bath
Remember that rule of thumb about waiting to wash your berries? The recommendation from Food52 is the exception to that rule. According to Food52, “washing your berries in a solution of vinegar and water … can extend their shelf-life by days (sometimes even weeks).”
Simply combine 1 cup of vinegar with 3 cups water in a bowl and soak your berries. The high acid content in vinegar creates an inhospitable environment for mold and bacteria, acting as a shield for your fruit, according to About.com. Just be sure to strain your berries afterwards and rinse with water, to avoid that vinegar taste. From there, it is important to get your berries as dry as possible; Food52 suggests a spin through a salad spinner to get completely dry.
What to do with imperfect berries
Even the most cautious of kitchen mavens may find themselves with a basket full of mushy raspberries now and again. Luckily, mushy (but not moldy) fruit has a place in your kitchen. Try your hand at strawberry rhubarb or a blueberry barbeque glaze; a raspberry pudding or a blackberry panna cotta. Plenty of recipes that involve pulverizing your berries will work even better with our slightly-mushy friends.