I can definitely think of a few reasons to eat berries.
They’re delicious, go great in a smoothie, and are jam-packed with important nutrients. Need more be said?
Probably not. But there’s still another reason why I love these small, flavorful fruits. Picking them. This may, of course, be due to the many summers I spent up a cherry tree or unsuccessfully trying to avoid scratching myself in a blackberry bramble, but there really is something to be said about picking your own berries.
Provided you can avoid eating them long enough to fill a basket (it’s a struggle), a trip to the berry patch can provide a fun morning with friends or family. Even better, on the home trip, you’ll be laden with fresh berries. It’s a particularly good way to get large quantities for freezing or jam making.
So whether you want to schedule a trip to your local growers and head out on the trail for some wild picking (beware the brambles), we’ve prepared this helpful guide to help you make the most of berry season.
While Picking’s Good
Strawberries typically ripen in the spring and early summer. That said, this is a widely cultivated fruit with hundreds of varieties and a whole plethora of sizes, tastes, and textures. What also varies is the growing conditions for different types of strawberries. As a result, the national strawberry season is considered to last for almost the entire year.
For berry-picking purposes, your best bet is to grab your basket somewhere between April and June. Southern states will be on the earlier end of that spectrum with the opposite being true for northern states.
Try to pick strawberries early in the day when it’s cooler. When looking for the best fruit to pick, it’s better to pay attention to color rather than size. If your berries are completely red in color, that is usually a good sign. Remember that once you pick a strawberry, it won’t continue to ripen so be sure that you pick the ones you’d want to eat.
Ah blackberries, my old foe!
Once again, the best time of year for picking blackberries can change depending on what state you live in. For southern states, blackberries usually peak in June, but as you go north, that becomes July.
The color of the berries will once again tell you what berries to pick. Fill your basket with plump berries that have a deep, black color while leaving red or purple ones for a later day. Those won’t be ripe yet. Picking blackberries won’t exactly require strenuous labor. Ripe berries will be off the plant with just a little pull.
You can also tell how sweet a berry will be by judging what type of black they are. A fully ripe berry will have a dull black color. These berries are the sweetest and are a good way to go if you’re taking your berries right home to use (they don’t keep for very long). Just make sure they’re not leaky or mushy. Shiny-skinned blackberries, on the other hand, aren’t as ripe. They’ll last longer, but won’t be as sweet.
Now for the little blue powerhouses that make for an excellent pie: the blueberry.
As you can probably expect, the best time to pick blueberries is when they’re…blue. More specifically, when they are fully blue and round without any cracks. The sweetest ones will typically be the ones with the darkest color.
You can pick blueberries from the end of May all the way to the middle of August, depending on where you live and the variety. Once again, getting them off the bush shouldn’t give you any trouble. Ripe blueberries can be easily rolled off the bush.
Raspberries, for their part, usually reach their peak harvest in June or July. We generally think of them as red berries, but there are also types that come in black and gold. As such, the big thing to look for is that they are brightly and consistently colored. They should also be full and not have their green caps attached.
General Picking tips
When berry-picking, it’s a good idea to get them home as soon as you can. If you happen to see any damaged berries, take them out as carefully as possible. Provided they’re not moldy, these bruised berries will make a good smoothie or jam, but it’s better to not store them with the rest.
The ones that are left should go into the fridge. Ideally, it’s better not to rinse them (or in the case of strawberries, cut off their caps) until right before you eat them.
That said, that’s not always the convenient method, especially if you’re in the habit of casually walking to the fridge to steal handfuls throughout the day. In that case, you can rinse your berries in cool water and let them dry on paper towels for a bit. Then, store them in the fridge in a breathable container lined with more paper towels.
Generally, fresh berries won’t stay good for very long. They’ll usually last from a few days to a week after picking them (if they’re kept in the fridge). Fortunately, if you’ve bitten off more berries than you can chew in that short period of time, don’t worry. That’s where freezing and jam come in handy.
You can find more information about jam-making here. As for freezing, that’s pretty simple. Spread the berries out on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer for a while until they’re firm. Transfer them into a resealable plastic bag (pro tip: press the blueberries flat for easy stacking) and back into the freezer they go.
Frozen berries will keep for several months so if you find yourself hankering for a pie or smoothie in the dead of winter, congratulations! You’re set.