A Berry Primer
Strawberries are ripe in the spring, but can usually be found in most markets year-round, although the quality never as good as it is in the peak months. They are generally sandy, and should be rinsed thoroughly. If you want to prolong the life of your strawberries, remove them from their basket and store them on a paper towel in a single layer. Stacking them promotes mold.
Blackberries and Raspberries
Blackberries and raspberries peak in the hottest months, depending on which part of the country you’re in. Both berries come in a range of colors, including purple-black, violet, red, pink, and gold. Look for plump, dark, heavy berries. Pick through them to remove any leaves or stems, but avoid washing them. Berries come to the market cleaned, and any more water used on them will be absorbed like a sponge into the juicy drupelets, only to be released later into your recipe.
Blueberries, related to the cranberry and the huckleberry, range in size from tiny and sweet to plump and juicy. Avoid wrinkled berries, or berries with hints of green. They also peak in the hotter months.
All berries are easy to preserve by freezing, although only the blueberry retains anything resembling its natural form once thawed. Moldy berries are gross to look at, but harmless. Use these for jams, sauces, and sorbet. Less-than-ideal berries are also perfect for creating berry vinegar. Add them to red or white wine vinegar and macerated for several.