12 Mistakes You’re Making with Summer Berries
Whether you're making the rounds at the farmers market or heading out to the strawberry field, make the most of your haul by avoiding these common mistakes.
Not choosing your fruit carefully
To get the most out of berry season, know what to look for in each fruit. Blueberries, for example, should be firm and uniform in color, perfect for tossing into summer-fresh meals, like a blueberry romaine salad. With strawberries, only select ones that are red, since they don’t continue to ripen off the vine and any yellow or green spots will remain sour.
Washing them at the wrong time
For sturdier berries, like blackberries and strawberries don’t delay when it comes to washing them! In fact, washing and drying them is a great way to keep them fresh (be sure they are really dry, though!). For more delicate berries, like raspberries, only wash right before eating or whipping up this rustic chocolate raspberry tart.
Washing in just water
For extra clean berries, create a vinegar bath (three cups cold water, one cup of white vinegar). This rinse will kill mold spores that significantly shorten the berries’ shelf life. Pick out and toss any berries showing obvious mold, swish the rest in the bath for about a minute, rinse thoroughly and make sure they’re dried before storing.
Don’t worry: your blueberry banana bread won’t have a vinegar after-taste.
Using cold water to wash
No vinegar on hand? No problem. Dunking your berries in hot water (think between 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 seconds will also help delay bacteria and mold for a few additional days. Dry and store them as you would after a vinegar bath.
Keeping berries too moist
One of berries’ biggest enemies is moisture, so make sure your storage conditions are as dry as possible. If using clamshell packaging with good ventilation, clean it before storing, let it dry and line it with a dry paper towel before adding the berries. For other containers, clean thoroughly and line with a kitchen towel. Keep the lid cracked to prevent excess moisture so they’ll be delicious and fresh for a morning spent over breakfast crepes with berries.
Keeping them on the refrigerator shelf
Not all fridge locations are created equal. To make them last as long as possible, put them in the crisper and make sure the setting is adjusted to a low humidity. High humidity should be used for vegetables.
Storing them with other fruits
Sure, your organizational instincts might want to group all your fruits together in the fridge, but produce creates ethylene gas, which speeds up the ripening process. Helpful on the vine, not so helpful in the fridge when you’re trying to get your berries to last as long as possible.
Throwing away ripe fruit
It might be tempting to throw away berries that look a day past their prime, but give this fruit a second life. Preserve the taste of summer for colder months by pureeing them, pouring them into an ice cube tray, and freezing them, or turn them into jam (we’ve got an easy how-to).
However, if your fruit is too far past its prime (moldy, squishy or otherwise), it’s OK to toss it in your compost.
Skipping the freezer
Ripe fruit isn’t the only type that should get the freezer treatment. Whether you find you just have too many berries to eat at once or you want to have summer flavors on hand year round, clean them, dry them, and stick them in the freezer.
Not thawing your frozen berries
It’s 100% OK to substitute frozen berries for fresh in your recipes, but be sure you’re substituting them properly. It’s best that you don’t just plop frozen blueberries into these recipes. Instead, let your berries thaw. At the very least, give them a rinse with warm water and a good pat down with a kitchen towel before stirring them in.
Baking with any berry—no matter how under- or overripe
When it comes time to whip up a cobbler, don’t just indiscriminately grab whatever berries you have in your kitchen: make sure your fruit is perfectly ripe. Not ripe enough, and it won’t be at the peak of sweetness and tenderness; way too ripe, and it will continue to disintegrate and become mushy in the oven. A good way to put your berries to work? With this praise-worthy jumbleberry crumble.
Claire Krieger/Taste of Home
Not giving your berries a hot water bath
Looking to keep your fresh berries mold-free for longer? A hot water bath (for your berries) is the answer. As soon as you get home from the grocery store, heat up a pot of water to 125°F and dunk your berries in it for exactly 30 seconds. Lift them out of the water using a slotted spoon, dry them on a paper towel-lined tray, and then store them in the refrigerator as usual. This tip comes from food scientist Harold McGee, so you know it’s for real.