Originally published for eco-Local Living Magazine
By Annette Nielsen
Celebrating the Season with Berries
Although you’ll see an abundance of produce early on in the season at regional farmers’ markets and farm stands, nothing is a more welcome signal of the warmer season than fresh-picked berries. The burst of sweetness never seems to last long enough, but with a little forethought, you can preserve your harvest for use throughout the year.
Strawberries are the first out of the gate (mid- to late-June) and are packed with Vitamin C, and they also provide a punch of iron and potassium. Think beyond the traditional strawberry shortcake, with chilled strawberry soup, strawberry coulis (a thick puree) or a bright salsa to accompany a tuna steak or chicken breast. Desserts like macerated strawberries (strawberries soaked or marinated in a liqueur) or strawberries with zabaglione (a frothy custard made from marsala and egg yolks and served over cake or fruit) are all favorites that augment your menus through the early summer.
Blueberries and early raspberries are next up (mid- to late-July) and provide ample opportunity for creative cooking. Cobblers, tarts, pies, soups, and smoothies – colorful and nutritious additions to warm-weather cuisine.
As the summer winds down, the late harvest raspberries are in abundance as the last kiss of summer. The majority of the raspberries we find are red, with varieties of black and golden also available. Since these berries are quite delicate, they don’t ship well (another reason why procuring at the farmers’ market, a farm stand, or at a u-pick farm is a good idea) and can’t withstand the treatment you might give a strawberry or blueberry. Enjoyed fully on its own, just picked without adornment, raspberries are also an indulgence appreciated with a bit of whipped cream or dropped in a glass of bubbly mineral water or champagne.
When scheduling a family outing at a u-pick farm, know that you’re getting an experience that not only provides you with the best tasting fruit, but that you’re supporting your local farmers and producers as well as your local economy.
Some tips to make your berry-picking experience a fun one:
DRESS FOR THE WEATHER. Since you’ll be outdoors, bring along a light jacket or sweater for early morning (cooler temperature) picking and don’t forget to apply sunscreen, even for the cloudy days;
CALL AHEAD FOR PICKING SCHEDULES. Weather plays a major role in the availability of crops — typically mid- to late-June starts the strawberry season, while blueberries are available during July, and raspberries (depending on the variety) are available starting mid-July for the summer variety and fall-bearing raspberries like Heritage and Autumn Bliss allow for picking until mid-October (or when the temperature dips to 28 degrees F.)
BUCKETS. Most farms supply buckets that you can use to pick the fruit, but you can usually save money by bringing your own container in which to transport your berries home;
BUGS. You’ll be picking your berries out in nature’s kingdom – the home of bees, ants, birds, and butterflies. If you have an allergic reaction to bees or bug bites, bring along the appropriate medications;
PICK ONLY THE RIPENED FRUIT. Blueberries tend to drop into your hand when ripe, and raspberries pull easily from the cluster. Blueberries, for example, are ripe when they have turned a purple-blue color, not reddish blue, but can ripen left at room temperature and will keep in the refrigerator for almost a week;
WAIT TO WASH the fruit until you’re ready to use it — water on picked berries promotes mold growth;
If YOU’RE FREEZING THE FRUIT, try to freeze as close to your harvest time as possible. Use either freezer-quality plastic containers or if you’re using non-rigid containers (bags), make certain they are also the thicker, freezer-quality variety to protect the fruit from freezer burn. Berries are delicate and if you’re freezing in bags, the bags shouldn’t be stacked until they are frozen;
REMEMBER that our farmers and producers grow the fruit, mow, prune, weed, and fertilize the plants from which you pick – all taking time and money. Their return on this investment is the income from the fruit. Be aware that eating more than a small handful of berries while picking is, inappropriate — and may also mean that a farmer can’t stay in business over the long haul if they aren’t fairly compensated for the fruit they produce. Berry picking etiquette also includes paying for all that you pick — including the unripe ones you might have inadvertently picked.
Photography by Jane Feldman