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Summertime is Berry Time

strawberriesHere in the Willamette Valley, the farmer’s market stalls are overflowing with berries. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, raspberries, boysenberries, the list goes on and on. Berries are nutritional all-stars and they taste wonderful. In this article from my nutrition newsletter, Think Outside the Cereal Box, learn about the benefits of eating berries, picking and storage tips, and two of my favorite berry recipes.

All About Berries

Nutritional Powerhouses

Call them superfoods, cancer-fighters, powerhouses, or whatever, berries are as nutritious as they are tasty .The compounds that make berries so bright and colorful also make them rich in antioxidants. As you may know, antioxidants are purported to heal the body from the damage of oxidative stress. This in turn, reduces your risk of cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, and a host of other degenerative illnesses. For a more comprehensive look antioxidants, this article from the Harvard School of Public Health is a must-read.

Berries are also excellent sources of fiber, which helps lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. There are likely a host of other chemicals found in berries that are good for us. Whole foods have been shown

to be far more beneficial than supplements of isolated compounds. So, take your medicine–eat some berries today!Right now, berries are in season, fresh and affordable. Why not stock up on these precious treats while they’re readily available?

Picking Your Own Berries

Picking berries is an enjoyable way to spend a morning or afternoon. Whether you grow your own berry patch in your yard or travel to a local farm, you can provide the freshest possible berries to your family by picking them yourself. To find a U-Pick farm near you, head over to PickYourOwn.org for a state-by-state directory.

Before you go, call the farm for information about prices, berries in season, and open hours. Find out if the farm provides picking containers or if you need to bring your own. Long, shallow containers work best for delicate berries like raspberries, which will crush under pressure. Consider how many berries you want to pick, and remember they will only stay fresh for a few days before spoiling. That means you need to eat or preserve your harvest when you get home.I recently wrote an entire article about picking strawberries. While the strawberry season is likely over where you live, some of the tips and strategies may still be useful. Of course, it’s never too early to prepare for next year, either.

Storing Berries

There are many ways to preserve berries for short- and long-term storage.

If you’re going to eat the berries within a few days, put them in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Do not wash the berries until right before you eat them. Washed berries will grow mold faster than unwashed berries in the fridge.

If you want to have berries for a January pie bake-off, freezing is the way to go. For most berries, simply place the berries in quart-size or gallon-size freezer bags, place in the freezer, and you’re done. Do not wash the berries before freezing. I like to lay the bag sideways and gently pile the berries on top of each other, forming a layer just a couple inches thick. If you set the bag upright, the weight of the berries will cause the ones on the bottoms to squish. For strawberries, it is best to hull the berries and lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet, then freeze solid. Place the frozen berries in a freezer bag and return to the freezer. Label your berry bags with the type of berry and the date picked.

If you have a dehydrator, you can dry berries or make fruit leather. I haven’t had much luck drying berries myself, but if you’re dead-set on it, read the directions in your food dehydrator manual and give it a try. Fruit leather, on the other hand, is super easy to make and it is amazingly delicious. Recipes abound on the Internet and are certainly in your dehydrator’s manual. Make sure you remember to take it out before it over-dries! Otherwise you’ll have crispy, fall-apart-in-your-hands fruit shards (although the shards are excellent additions to hot oatmeal).

Lastly, you can make jam, freezer jam, preserves, or jelly out of your prized berry haul. Jam is really easy to make, and stores for up to a year without refrigeration. Freezer jam is super-duper easy to make, but you need to find space in your freezer amid the bags of frozen berries. Once you get the basic recipe down, you can experiment with different additives and berry combinations. For more information about how to make and store jams and jellies, check out the extensive resources from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

 

Nine Ways to Use Berries

There are as many ways to use berries as there are types of berries to buy. Here are a variety of ways to consume berries.

  1. Plain. This is my favorite way to eat berries. Wash them and pop them into your mouth; the fresher, the better. There’s no need to doctor up perfection.
  2. With yogurt. Berries are an excellent complement to plain, unsweetened yogurt. Whether you prefer Greek yogurt or the other kind, berries add just enough sweetness and texture to make even the blandest yogurt taste amazing. Plus, it’s way healthier than getting the pre-sweetened yogurt.
  3. Baked goods. Now, I don’t recommend making cakes, pies and scones on a regular basis, but the occasional baking spree can be fun and delicious. Use berries in pies, muffins, scones, tarts, and crumbles. Bring the finished dish to a party so you don’t have to eat it all yourself.
  4. On top of salads. I love berries in my salads. Use blackberries, strawberries or raspberries on a simple green salad. Try grapes or cherries in a chicken salad. Get creative!
  5. Chilled summer soups. Move over, gazpacho, there’s another cold soup in town. Berries are dazzling when pureed and embellished in a summery soup. Click here for ideas. Just watch the added sugar when making these recipes.
  6. Smoothies. Freeze berries to add to smoothies, no ice required. Frozen pureed berries are also great additions to adult beverages.
  7. Sauces. Berries make not only excellent dessert sauces, but they are excellent complements to meat dishes as well. Try a blueberry sauce with salmon or some blackberry glazed grilled pork chops (keep scrolling to find the recipe).
  8. Cereal toppers. If you enjoy a bowl of hot or cold cereal for breakfast in the morning, try dropping some fresh berries on top! This is a great way to jazz up plain cereal like Cheerios or bran flakes, without adding extra sugar.
  9. Jam. Oh so simple and delightful, jam. Once you make your own jam, you’ll never go back to buying it from the supermarket.

Marionberry Freezer Jamfreezer_jam

Freezer jam is best to make on a hot summer day when you don’t want to turn on the stove. It is simple to make and requires far less sugar than traditional jam recipes. Be sure you purchase freezer-jam fruit pectin for this recipe.

4 c fresh marionberries or other blackberries, washed
Juice of half a lemon
1 1/2 c sugar
1 packet Mrs. Wages No-Cook Freezer Jam

  1. Smash the marionberries to a pulp in a large bowl.
  2. Add the lemon juice and sugar. Stir well.
  3. Add the fruit pectin and stir until it is evenly distributed throughout the berry mix. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, clean 4 (8 oz) jelly jars or 8 (4 oz) jelly jars and an equal number of lids with soap and water.
  5. Use a canning funnel to fill the jars with jam, leaving about 1/4″ of space at the top. Freeze jam.
  6. Freezer jam can be stored in the freezer for up to one year.
Makes 4 cups of jam

Berry Power Breakfastberries and yogurt

This is my favorite summer breakfast. Loaded with flavor, vitamins, minerals and fiber, this is sure to keep you energized all morning long.

1 c mixed berries: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc.

2/3 c plain, unsweetened yogurt
2-3 tbsp chopped nuts
light drizzle of pure maple syrup or agave (optional)

  1. Place the berries in a serving bowl. Top with yogurt, then nuts.
  2. Drizzle a liquid sweetener on top, if desired. Add just enough sweetener to make it palatable. If you’re used to eating pre-sweetened yogurt, this is a good way to wean yourself off of the super-sugary taste.
  3. Grab a spoon and dig in!
Serves 1

For more information about berries, check out these links:

All You Want to Know about Berries from AsktheBerryMan.com
Health Benefits of Berries from the Food Network Blog
Pick Berries for Dinner from the Wall Street Journal

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