Blueberries: Look for firm, deep blue or purplish berries that are not soft or bruised. Wash them right before eating. The waxy, whitish-gray coloring on the blueberry is referred to as the "bloom" and is a sign of freshness and is a natural protection that helps keep the berry from spoiling. The berries should move freely when you shake the container; if they don't, it's a sign that they may be soft and stuck together. If the wooden box or cardboard container is damp or stained, the fruit inside may be crushed, moldy or decayed.
For frozen blueberries, be sure the berries rattle around in the bag or container. If they are frozen into a solid clump, it's an indication that the berries have thawed and then been refrozen. Be sure to buy unsweetened berries.
Most of the blueberries we buy are cultivated. The marble-size berries are round and plump, with a deep blue color. Wild blueberries are much smaller than the cultivated variety -- there are 1,600 wild blueberries to the pound compared to 500 cultivated berries -- and have a chewy, dense texture and deep flavor. They can be found fresh in areas where they are grown such as Maine or northern and eastern Canada. Outside of the local growing area they are often available canned or frozen.
Dried blueberries can be found in specialty food markets and many supermarket bulk sections. They provide a concentration of the whole fruit's nutrients such as anthocyanins. Keep in mind that the calories will also be concentrated. Domestically grown cultivated blueberries are on the market from May through September or October. Other times of the year, imported blueberries may be available.
Strawberries: For the best flavor, buy strawberries when they're in season, namely the summer months. Choose strawberries carefully. Inferior or spoiled fruit is often hidden by the perfect berries on top. If the container is not wrapped, you can remove a few of the top berries and take a peek at the ones below. Otherwise check containers for dampness or stains, which indicate that the fruit below may be decaying. Check for twigs or other debris - there shouldn't be any.
Ideally, strawberries should be plump, dry, firm, well shaped and a rich red in color. Avoid withered or crushed berries. Pale, greenish or yellowish fruit is unripe and will be hard and sour. Strawberries do not ripen after being picked. The leafy caps should look fresh and green. Choose those that have a fresh sweet smell.
Wild strawberries or "fraises des bois," are sometimes available. These delicate thumbnail-size berries are prized for their intense flavor.
Blueberries: Blueberries are the hardiest of all the berries and will last for seven to 10 days if refrigerated. Before doing so, empty the container of blueberries into a bowl and remove any that are crushed or moldy, then return berries to their container. This will prevent the good berries from going bad too quickly. Do not wash the berries before storing.
To freeze blueberries, spread unwashed berries on a cookie sheet or jelly-roll pan (baking pan with 1" deep sides) and put in freezer until berries are frozen solid. Transfer berries to a heavy-duty freezer bag or container. They'll keep in the freezer for 10 months to a year.
Strawberries: Unfortunately, strawberries are highly perishable. Beautiful berries can turn soft, mushy and moldy within 24 hours if not properly stored. At home, remove any soft, overripe strawberries for immediate eating. Discard any smashed or moldy ones and gently blot the remainder dry with a paper towel. Do not wash unless using right away as washing removes their natural protective outer layer. Berries can then be returned to their container or better yet, spread them out on a shallow plate or pan and cover with paper towels, then with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Use within 1 to 2 days.
Strawberries can also be frozen and enjoyed year round. To freeze, pick over the berries, then spread them out in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan. Place the unwashed berries in the freezer until they are solidly frozen. Transfer to a heavy plastic freezer bag or container. Like blueberries, they'll keep for 10 months to a year. They are best used in beverages, sauces and desserts as the sweet flavor will still be there but the texture may not be intact.
Blueberries: Before eating or cooking, rinse fresh blueberries with cool running water and pat dry. Remove any leaves or stems and they are ready to eat.
Frozen blueberries should be quickly rinsed under cold running water. Let them thaw at room temperature for a few minutes before adding to uncooked dishes. When using frozen berries in cooked dishes, do not thaw and lengthen the cooking time a few minutes.
Strawberries: Just before eating, rinse gently in cold water. Leave the caps on to prevent water from soaking into the strawberry, diluting the flavor and changing the texture. Drain and gently pat dry. Remove caps and the white hull.
Frozen berries should be quickly rinsed under cold water before using. They need not be thawed before using them in recipes, however extra cooking time may be required due to their moisture content.
How can we eat blueberries and strawberries? Let me count the ways. Out of hand, dried or leathered, in muffins, quick breads and coffee cakes, in fruit flans, shortcakes, cheesecakes, puddings, pies, compotes, liqueurs, wines, sauces, spreads, jams and jellies. You'll find them in pancakes and waffles, fruit salad and on cereal and yogurt. Don't forget ice cream, sorbets, sundaes, custards, fools (cooked, pureed fruit that is strained, chilled and folded into whipped cream), flummery (sweet, soft pudding made of stewed fruit thickened with cornstarch) buckles, grunts (fruit topped with biscuit dough and stewed), cobblers, crisps and more.
Did you know? On average, there are 200 tiny seeds in every strawberry.
FYI: The strawberry is actually not a berry at all. Because it grows from the base rather than from the ovary of a flower, it is not a true berry. Fortunately, their "berry" status doesn't affect their wonderful flavor.
Berry Tips: Use tweezers to pull hulls from strawberries. To keep blueberries from turning your muffins or quick breads blue dust them first with flour. This also keeps them all from dropping to the bottom of the baking pan.
Easy Ways to Eat More Berries Everyday:
Berries are delicious gifts from nature, loaded with vitamins and phytochemicals. The most popular berries are naturally sweet, and don't require much effort to dish up. Just rinse and serve them for a healthy, easy snack or dessert.
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