summer berry guide: how to pick, store, and prepare fresh summer berriers (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)
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Berries are nature’s most convenient fruit. You don’t need to core them, peel them, or slice them to enjoy a sweet, refreshing snack. Now that it’s nearly summer, many varieties are at peak freshness and more abundant than ever. Whether you’re strolling through the farmers market or the produce aisle, you’ll want to take advantage of the bounty of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries that await.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at all the possibilities (Should I make a cobbler or a pie? Muffins or a smoothie?) or are just unaware of how or when to find the ripest batch, look no further. We break down the basics for each berry below.

Strawberries

how to pick, store, and use fresh strawberries

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When should I buy strawberries?

Strawberries are one of the first signs of summer. They’re the second fruit (after their pie partner-in-crime, rhubarb) to come into season. Once they hit their farmers market peak in mid-April (through June), you know that a season of sunshine and jam is under way. With over 600 varieties, strawberries are the most cultivated berry in the country. They’re also grown in every single state and, as a result, sure to be plentiful no matter where you live.

How do I pick the best strawberries?

Generally speaking, the smaller the strawberry, the sweeter the flavor. Larger strawberries have a higher concentration of water and therefore have a more diluted taste. While size isn’t an indication of freshness, it is something to be mindful of when it comes to personal preferences. But here’s something to always be on the lookout for: Strawberries that still have their green-leafed caps in tact and are bright, plump, and dry are usually at ideal ripeness. Avoid shriveled and partially white ones, as those are telltale signs of unripeness.

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What are the nutritional perks of strawberries?

These hearty berries contain tons of vitamin C, K, potassium, and fiber. Slice ’em up in your cereal for an extra boost of nutrients to help start your day.

Related Video: How to Store Strawberries

How should I use strawberries?

Given their larger size, strawberries are well suited for cakes. In fact, we’re pretty sure they were invented for multi-tiered shortcake purposes. Just layer them between fresh whipped cream and vanilla chiffon cake and you have this heavenly dessert. Get our Strawberry Shortcake Layer Cake recipe. Or try Jessie Sheehan’s Raspberry Icebox Cake recipe. And if you’re not in the mood for cake, just dip them in chocolate, or check out these sweet and savory ways to use strawberries.


Blueberries

how to pick, store, and use fresh blueberries

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When should I buy blueberries?

These indigo-colored berries are a summertime staple. Most of the blueberries you find in the supermarket are highbush blueberries. This variety is known for its plump size, vibrant color, and sweet taste. The peak season for fresh blueberries is mid-June to mid-August, with the earliest harvest in southern states, and later ones in northern states and Canada. While they are technically available year-round, you might want to consider heading to the freezer section beyond the summer season, since berries are usually picked and frozen at peak freshness.

How do I pick the best blueberries?

Much like strawberries, size isn’t a visible marker of freshness, but color is. Look for purplish-blue or bluish-black hues. And as obvious as it might sound, avoid anything red; those are underripe and won’t ripen once they’re picked. Anything soft and shriveled is also no-go.

Related Reading: How to Store Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

What are the nutritional perks of blueberries?

In terms of health benefits, they’re also antioxidant powerhouses. Though they might be overshadowed by the trendy acai berry, don’t ever forget about the loads of nutrients and fiber found in this deceptively ordinary fruit.

How should I use blueberries?

Chowhound

One word: muffins. These bite-sized berries enhance the simplest baked good with their juicy tartness. Get our Almond-Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffin recipe. And check out these other blueberry recipes to up your breakfast game. But don’t forget about beautiful blueberry tarts. Throw some in a savory salad for a change, too.


Blackberries

how to pick, store, and use fresh blackberries

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When should I buy blackberries?

Blackberries are the literal late bloomers of the bunch. They don’t peak until mid-July and August. But don’t let that stop you from stocking up on the dark jewel of the Rubus family. Much like their cousin, raspberries, they’re aggregate fruits, meaning each blackberry consists of multiple drupelets, each of which contain a seed. Unlike raspberries, their core remains intact as it grows, resulting in a heftier weight and more oblong shape.

How do I pick the best blackberries?

As usual, the darker the berry, the better. So be on the lookout for purplish-black colored berries. Also, avoid berries whose drupelets appear wrinkled or saggy.

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What are the nutritional perks of blackberries?

A one-cup serving packs eight grams of fiber. Now you know how to supplement your bran flakes!

How should I use blackberries?

Just look at the stunning hue of this chiffon pie. The flavor is just as swoon-worthy. Just be sure to carefully strain the seeds out of the blackberry syrup and you should be good to go. Get our Blackberry Chiffon recipe. Try making blackberries into a savory pan sauce for pork tenderloin or duck breast too. They’re also great in drinks like our Blackberry Caipirinha.


Raspberries

how to pick, store, and use fresh raspberries

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When should I buy raspberries? 

While there are over 200 varieties of raspberries, you’re probably most familiar with the red ones, though they come in lots of colors including gold, purple, and black. The bumpy, sweet fruit has a tart undertone, making it the perfect addition to all of your summertime cobblers and pies. While lighter in weight than their blackberry brethren, each berry has 100-120 seeds, so be mindful of the grainy texture if you choose to throw them in a smoothie. Raspberries hit their peak come mid-May.

How do I pick the best raspberries?

Be on the lookout for plump, bright red berries that don’t have any dents or bruises. That’s really all there is to it.

Related Reading: Why Brightly Colored Summer Fruit Is So Good for You

What are the nutritional perks of raspberries?

Raspberries actually have more vitamin C than oranges. Take that, citrus.

How should I use raspberries?

This tart is super easy to make. All you have to do is blend the berries with some lime juice and sugar to make the filling. Get our Easy Raspberry Tart recipe. But they’re also great folded into other baked goods or blended into frozen treats: try our Raspberry Scones recipe and our Raspberry Sorbet recipe for proof. Like blackberries, they’re also great paired with poultry (especially duck) and pork.

Header image courtesy of Tom Baker / EyeEm / Getty Images

Jessica is a former Associate Editor at Chowhound. Follow her on Twitter @volume_knob for updates on snacks and cats.
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