How to make summer’s berry bounty last

The best time of year has begun in earnest. Forget summer; it’s berry-picking season. Depending where you live, the strawberry crop may have passed its peak, but strawberries are just the beginning of a monthslong abundance. In June, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries begin to ripen, and they should be available in excess for much of the rest of the summer.

The only problem with berries is that it’s easy to end up with more than you can eat before they go moldy and turn to mush. A table full at the farmers market is just too tempting, and if you visit a you-pick farm, you’re going to want to get your money’s worth. So what’s the best way to tear through a bumper crop once it reaches your kitchen?

The default answer, often, is to bake — and the opportunities are endless. There’s galette, crisp, pie, cobbler and crumble — all of which can usually work with any mixture of berries, whatever’s on hand and in season. You can never go wrong with shortcake, muffins or an eye-catching layer cake, like this lemon-berry option or the berry chantilly cake that’s one of the highlights of the Whole Foods bakery section. Berries can also play a savory part at the dinner table: Add them to green salads and grains or get creative with ceviche or a blackberry sauce for grilled pork.

But there are only so many dinners to cook — and one kitchen can only contain so many baked goods — during fresh berries’ short moment of peak ripeness. According to Kelly Swann of Swann Farms in Owings, Md., strawberries are best eaten as soon as possible after they’re picked. Blackberries and raspberries will stay fresh for several days in the fridge, and blueberries can keep for a week or two. Be sure to thoroughly dry all berries before refrigerating them; excess water speeds up their deterioration, especially in strawberries.

If you’ve gotten overzealous while shopping or picking, you might find yourself looking not just for recipes but for solutions. Ideally quick ones. The first, simplest option to extend the life of your fresh fruit by killing off mold spores and bacteria is a water-vinegar wash. A common formula for the solution is 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water. A quick dunk followed by a rinse and dry is all it takes. (Here’s Food 52’s primer.)

If you’re in the mood to do more than just snack on your berries, Swann has no shortage of options. She’s a busy mom who works full time and helps her husband on the farm, and with fields of strawberries, blackberries and blueberries growing nearby, she appreciates the too-many-berries conundrum. The key to eliminating waste, she explained, is having a clear plan.

“If I’m thoughtful about it, kind of like a squirrel with acorns, I save them up,” she said.

The best way to freeze berries

Swann swears by a simple method for freezing berries. First, she washes them and pats them dry. If she’s working with strawberries, she cuts off the tops and places each berry, cut side down, on a sheet pan. For other berries, she makes sure to scatter them on the pan so that no berry is touching another. Then, she puts the baking sheet in the freezer for 30 minutes, removes it and transfers the berries to zip-top bags before putting them right back in the freezer.

The half-hour on the sheet pan keeps the berries from sticking together in clumps as they finish freezing. After just a few hours, they’re ready to be easily measured for smoothies, and they’ll last well into the winter.

Make berry purées and shrubs

Swann also purées her excess berries to use as sauces and toppings. The method is foolproof: For every cup of berries, add a teaspoon of lemon juice and about 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar — though you can adjust the sugar quantity to taste. Purée the mixture in a food processor or blender until it’s smooth and pourable, and afterward, strain out the seeds if you’re so inclined. (For blackberries, you’ll probably want to. For other berries, it might not be necessary.)

An alternative method: Instead of puréeing right away, add the sugar and lemon juice and let the berries macerate in the fridge for several days. That will amplify the berries’ flavor, which is key if you want to take your syrup a step further and make a shrub, a vinegar-based fruit syrup that can be the backbone of a nonalcoholic beverage or mixed with spirits to lighten up a summer drink.

Quick pickle berries

If you’re intrigued by the intersection of sweet and savory, you can also experiment with quick pickling, which is especially effective for strawberries and blueberries. This Food 52 recipe for quick-pickled strawberries can be adapted for different fruit, and you can easily switch out the spices and varieties of peppercorn to fit your taste.

Once pickled, berries are especially delicious on crostini and in sauces over grilled meat.

Make simple berry jam

Jam is another foolproof way to turn a heap of berries into a few small jars of condiments. Berry jam is best made over the stovetop, which is a bit more labor-intensive than the oven method that works for larger stone fruit. But even so, the babysitting is minimal; for berry jam, it should cook for barely more than half an hour. And there’s no need to go through the process of canning if you can commit to storing your jam in the fridge and eating it within a month.

Try homemade fruit leather

If you’re looking for a way to use berries and wind up with little to no waste, you might want to invest in some equipment. A juicer will come in handy — you can drink your berries, and the neatly separated pulp can be a project unto itself.

Jessica Richards, a farmer and gardener in Southern Maryland, grew up eating fruit leathers, which her grandmother made and sent from Florida. She used mangoes, pineapples and bananas, and what she produced was essentially a healthier Fruit Roll-Up. Today, Richards grows a variety of berries, and she follows her grandmother’s methods when she ends up with a bumper crop.

She lets the leftover pulp in her juicer macerate for about two hours. (A good rule of thumb is to use 2 tablespoons of sugar per cup of pulp.) Then, she passes the pulp through a metal sieve to eliminate seeds and adds lemon juice or additional sugar to taste. Richards uses a dehydrator to make her fruit leathers, but many air fryers also offer a dehydrate function. Some recipes call for air drying in the sun or baking on a sheet pan in a 140-degree oven, the drying temperature recommended by the National Center for Home Food Preservation. But many ovens cannot sustain that low of a temperature. The key is spreading the pulp mixture as thinly as possible and operating with a fair amount of patience.

A perk of fruit leathers: They’re the perfect use, Richards said, for berries “on the edge of human consumption,” which are too ripe to eat but not yet actually rotten. They’re also delicious even with improvisation; Richards said that when she doesn’t have enough pulp to make a full sheet, she simply adds applesauce until she’s left with the proper amount.


Chunky Berry Sauce goes great with summer treats like pound cake and ice cream. Rey Lopez for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky

Chunky Berry Sauce

This berry sauce is a great way to use up a surplus of berries and makes a delightful accompaniment for blintzes, ice cream, toast — or whatever you desire. Cranberries are plentiful in winter and blueberries in summer, so your blintzes never need to be without a homemade sauce to complete them.

Storage: Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

About 4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (from one 12-ounce bag) or fresh or frozen blueberries (2 pints)

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Finely grated zest (1 tablespoon) and 1/3 cup juice from 1 orange, or more juice as needed

1 teaspoon cornstarch

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir together the berries, sugar, butter, orange zest and juice, and cornstarch until combined, and bring to a simmer. Maintain the mixture at a simmer, stir gently occasionally, until the berries pop and release their juices.

Remove from the heat and let cool; the sauce will thicken as it stands. If it thickens too much, stir in a little orange juice to loosen.

Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.

Serves about 16 (Makes 2 cups)

Nutritional facts per serving (2 tablespoons) | Calories: 70; Fat: 1 g; Carbohydrates: 16 g; Sugar: 14 g

— From Washington, D.C. writer Susan Barocas.

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