by Elena Gustavson, RAFFL's Everyday Chef. With a short growing season, somewhere between 90 and 120 days, plus the variable weather, growing in Vermont can be a challenge. Maybe it is because of this unpredictable climate where every tomato harvested feels like a victory and home grown stone fruits are rare indeed, is why we love our berries so very much.
The berry season in Vermont typically ranges from late June to early October. In our short, but fruitful season, we can enjoy raspberries and strawberries (although neither are technically real berries), then move into summer with currants, gooseberries, elderberries, blueberries and ending with a glorious flush of blackberries.
At our place, a typical day of picking usually consists of at LEAST one person exclaiming “I ate more than I put in the bucket!”, a testimonial to the irresistible allure of the ripe, sun sweetened fruits. Fortunately, with so many farms in the area cultivating these fruits and the luck of coming across wild or long forgotten patches throughout the State, harvesting enough berries for cooking and preserving isn’t usually too difficult to accomplish if you have the time and an empty container.
So, for those of you who find a pint of uneaten berries still hanging around in your cooler, read on for tips and ideas on storing, washing, freezing and using berries this season.
Storing and Washing Berries:
Refrigerate right away. Chilling the berries for an hour or so before you wash them, helps keep these fragile, sun warmed fruits from falling apart under the water.
Store on a shelf in your fridge and NOT in the crisper or a drawer. Allowing air to circulate around the berries helps keep them fresher, longer.
DO NOT rinse berries until you are ready to eat them. Introducing water introduces opportunity for mold.
Rinse and drain in a colander. Do not soak or let them sit in water.
Best Practice: Spread washed and dried berries on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper, in one layer and freeze for several hours. Transfer frozen berries to a freezer safe bag or container, removing air if possible, and keep frozen for several months.
Reality: Loosely pack into quart size freezer bags, remove air with a straw and seal tightly. Lay on side in freezer. Leave there for 6 months in the way back, under freezer burned vanilla ice cream, before discovering during a frantic search for something sweet one late night.
Tips for Use:
Eat fresh on everything.
Sauce - Simmer a pint of berries, with sugar to taste, until the berries break down. Eat sauce on everything.
Syrup - Simmer a pint of berries, with sugar to taste, until the berries break down and reduce for several minutes. Squeeze a bit of lemon or lime juice in there, strain out the solids and store in the refrigerator. Use berry syrup in everything.
Pickle berries. No, that is not a typo.