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See also: Blackberry; Blueberry; Strawberry; etc
One of the nation’s most well liked fruits; berries have origins in both Europe and here in the United States. The Native Americans were the first to incorporate berries into their diets and lifestyle. Today, berries are appreciated worldwide.
Berries signify summer and rightfully so, as the warmer months are the peak harvest for these fruits. Berries have traditionally included blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. However, there are other varieties that have since flooded the markets.
Many berries are suitable to eat raw and most types vary from 50 to 100 calories per serving if eaten raw. Berries are brimming with vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.
In general, berries should be dry, firm, well shaped, and eaten within a week after purchase. If you can’t eat them that soon, remember that berries freeze well! It’s best to buy berries that are ‘in-season’ as they’ll cost less and are more ripe and flavorful than ‘out-of-season’ berries.
Stay away from containers of berries with juice stains which may be a sign that the berries are crushed and possibly moldy; soft, watery fruit that means the berries are overripe; dehydrated, wrinkled fruit that means the berries have been stored too long.
Select blueberries that are firm, dry, plump, and smooth-skinned. Berries should be deep-purple blue to blue-black; reddish berries aren't ripe but can be used in cooking.
Select raspberries and blackberries that are unblemished dry, in an unstained container. Raspberries should be medium to bright red, depending on the variety. Blackberries should be shiny and black — avoid those that are dull or reddish. Moisture will increase spoilage, so the berries themselves should be relatively dry. Shelf life for raspberries and blackberries is short, and they should be consumed within 2–3 days of purchase. Eat at room temperature for fullest flavor.
Currants should still be firmly attached to their stems.
Strawberries should be a bright shade of red and the caps on the berries should be green and fresh looking. Berries that are green or yellow are unripe and will taste sour.
After purchasing berries, check the fruit and toss out any moldy or deformed berries. Immediately eat the overripe berries within 24 hours. Return the other berries back to the original container or they should be arranged unwashed in a shallow pan lined with paper towels, and washed just prior to use. The berries may be topped with a paper towel to absorb any additional moisture. Plastic wrap the entire container. This will ensure the fruit retains its freshness, but generally berries should be eaten within one week.
Because berries have a short shelf life, an alternative to enjoy them year round is to buy them fresh and freeze them yourself. The secret to successful freezing is to use unwashed and completely dry berries before placing them in a single layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Once the berries are frozen, transfer them to plastic bags or freezer containers. Frozen berries should last approximately ten months to one year.
Preparation of Berries
When you’re ready to use the berries, go through the lot once more to sort out any undesirable fruit. Then, rinse, drain, and pat dry the fruit. Commercially frozen berries do not need to be ‘cleaned’ or thawed. If you froze your own berries, a quick rinse may be necessary.
There are many types of berries from smooth-skinned varieties like blueberries, to berries that have fleshy segments like raspberries and blackberries. Strawberries are not considered a ‘true’ berry, as they do not grow from a flower ovary but from the base of the plant.
Blackberries have a similar appearance to raspberries, but they are larger, hardier, and have a dark purple to black color. In general for this berry, the more intense color, the more sweet the fruit. There are blackberry hybrids that include boysenberries, loganberries, and ollalieberries, which are all, tart tasting and primarily used in jams and pies. Blackberry peak season is June and July with harvesting beginning in May and ending in September.
Wild blueberries are smaller in size compared to their cultivated cousins. Blueberries have a protective light powdery coating on the skins and tend to last longer than other berry varieties. Nearly half of the cultivated blueberries grown are sold as fresh blueberries. Fresh blueberries are available for nearly eight months of the year from producers across the United States and Canada. North America is the world's leading blueberry producer, accounting for nearly 90% of world production at the present time. The North American harvest runs from mid-April through early October, with peak harvest in mid-May—August.
Currants are berries that look similar to grapes but are very tart. Because of their tartness, they are primarily used for jams and jellies. Red and white currants are grown domestically while the black currants are grown in Europe. Fresh currants are available July through August.
The most delicate of the berry family, raspberries have a similar structure to blackberries but have a hollow core. Therefore, this fruit requires delicate handling during preparation. Red raspberries are the most common type but there are also golden, amber, and purple berries all similar in taste and texture. Imported raspberries are from Chile, while most of the fruit comes from California. Raspberry season begins in June and lasts through October.
Perhaps the most popular of all the berries, strawberries have the most vitamin C of the berry family. Strawberries have been known since the time of the Greeks and Romans and cultivation of strawberries began in 1624. Commercial growing in America began about 1800 on the east coast of the United States. Strawberries moved west with the pioneers and now there are more than seventy varieties of strawberries, many of which are grown in California and Florida. This familiar fruit is usually available fresh year round with a peak from April to July.
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