In the realm of summer fruit, berries reign as the crown jewels. Sure, you can probably pick up a pint of blueberries in the dead of winter, but the out-of-season offerings can't compare to the color, flavor, and sweetness of local berries from a farmers' market or pick-your-own farm. To help you make the most of these summer treasures, we've put together a guide to finding and preparing berries that are flawlessly fresh and exquisitely ripe.
Fresh Berry Tart with Toasted Nut Crust (pictured)
Pick of the Crop
These berry-picking tips come from Katie Creeger, owner of Kestrel Perch Berries CSA in Ithaca, N.Y.
At the Market: Look for dark, plump berries with a whitish bloom. Avoid blueberries with pinkish rings at the stem, a sign that they aren't quite ripe.
Pick-your-own tip: "Blueberries should be picked individually—not all the berries in a cluster will ripen at the same time," says Creeger.
At the Market: Select berries that are uniform in color with no signs of moisture or crushing—raspberries are highly perishable and will mold quickly if damaged.
Pick-your-own tip: Pluck raspberries that come off easily from the plant. "Bramble fruits are really easy to pick when they're fully ripe. If you have to exert pressure to get them off the plant, they're not ready," explains Creeger.
At the Market: "It can be very hard to tell whether blackberries are ripe just by looking at them," says Creeger. "Some varieties change from shiny to dull when ripe, but some don't." Taste, if you can, or follow the same rules for raspberries.
Pick-your-own tip: Because blackberries can still be sour even when they look ripe, gently test each berry to see if it comes away easily—the only sure sign of ripeness.
Red & black currants
At the Market: Currants should still be attached to their stems in clusters and have a vibrant-hued glow about them.
Pick-your-own tip: Pluck clusters instead of individual fruits. "You'll have to pick the stems off later, but wouldn't you rather do that sitting in the shade than out in a hot field?" jokes Creeger.
My Huckleberry Friend
As sustainable and organic farmers get back to their roots, they're reintroducing local berry varieties that are worth seeking out in season. Here are a few to look for:
Huckleberries, wild blueberries Small, blue-black varieties that can be used like blueberries.
Lingonberries These tiny, tart red berries are members of the cranberry family.
Boysenberries Sweet, purple-red berries that are hybrids of loganberries, raspberries, and blackberries.