Summer berries

A wide variety of berries ripen during the summer months, their flavor and juices help to keep us chill during the hot weather.

Summer berries don't need cooking and a little preparation will turn them into surprising desserts to please all the family. Berries are also loaded with good for you antioxidants, darker colored berries having more antioxidant power.

Juicy berries get to the market almost with the summer weathe, perfect to cool us down during those warm days. Delicious and attractive, summer berries need next to nothing to achieve spectacular results on the plate.

Serve them whole or cut in half, in a fruit salad, decorating cakes and pies, sprinkled with sugar, with whipped cream or ice cream.

Puree over ripe berries and use this pureed fruit as base for smoothies, mousses, ice cream, coulis and other fruit sauces. Tempting desserts, all of them, even for those not fond of fruit.

Choosing berries

Berries come usually in small transparent containers and it is difficult to asses their quality. Look underneath, though all berries produce some juice stains at the bottom, excessive juice indicates the fruit is off, even moldy.

Blueberries - choose them well rounded, firm and deep purple color.

Bilberries, huckleberries, whortleberries - all black in color, belong to the blueberry family.

Blackberries - large, rich dark color, firm but no hard, without any red or brown spots. Avoid unripe blackberries, with a telltale reddish color. Blackberries are sweet or mildly sweet. Use sour ones for cooking.

Currants - black, red, or white; juicy white currants are the sweetest and favorites to eat raw, red currants come second; black currants are sour and are generally used for cooking.

Gooseberries - these sour berries are best cooked before eating; favorites for puddings and tarts.

Loganberries - a cross between blackberry and raspberry, very sweet and delicious; grown mostly in the West of United States.

Mulberries - yellow, dark blue or reddish brown, very sweet tree berries.

Raspberries - Choose bright, red berries. Pale colored ones are not so sweet. Very dark raspberries are usually over ripe.

Strawberries - Choose firm, bright red strawberries. Soft dark red ones are good for preserves but not for the table. Tiny and very sweet wild strawberries are a treat; their color is pink and white when ripe. Remove hulls just before serving or cooking.

Storing and preparing berries

Transfer berries to a plate as soon as you get through the door and discard any bad ones. Moldy berries spoil the rest very quickly. Chill until ready to use. Keep at the bottom of the fridge in a tightly closed container for no longer than two days.

Though berries come usually clean, would need washing before serving. Wash them in a colander, dipping them quickly in cold water -don't let them soak for long- two or three times or under running water, but careful, berries are delicate. Drain thoroughly, dry on a kitchen towel. Remove caps or stems, sprinkle with sugar if desired and chill a few minutes more before serving.

Berries to the table

Sweet berries at the peak of ripeness are best served with sugar and cream, on their own or combined with other berries and summer fruits. A few drops of lemon or orange juice can help to enhance their flavor.

  • Serve in small bowls with whipped cream, yogurt, or ice cream.
  • Over cottage cheese, sprinkle a little brown sugar over them.
  • Pour freshly squeezed orange juice over strawberries or raspberries. Better if the berries are halved or sliced to soak the flavor.
  • For children: cut strawberries and put them in a bowl with very sweet milk. Let them infuse for half an hour inside the fridge.
  • For adults: use sweet wine or red wine with plenty of sugar instead of milk.
  • Fill tall glasses with mixed berries and fresh peach cubes, peeled. Sprinkle orange peel and add some with orange juice. Feeling extravagant? Use cava.
  • Red fruit for dinner: fill one half of a cantaloupe melon with raspberries and strawberries. Sprinkle with sugar and pour over some Cointreau or other sweet liquor. Serve over crushed ice.
  • Slice strawberries and bananas. Serve together. They combine amazingly well.
  • Use berries and whipped cream as cake filling.

Prepare a fruit puree, by hand or use the blender. Pour through a coarse sieve to trap the tiny seeds. Add sugar if needed, add a touch of lemon juice if it is too sweet.

Berry milkshake - 4 tbsp pureed fruit, 1 cup milk, 2 tbsp vanilla ice cream. Blend until smooth and frothy.

Berry yogurt - add 2 tbsp pureed fruit to ½ cup plain yogurt.

Berry cream - mix 1 cup pureed berries with ½ cup whipped cream or whipped evaporated milk. Decorate with fruit slices and chopped nuts.

Berry pie filling - use thick fruit puree to fill a pie base. Decorate with whipped cream.

Berry swing - add a little cognac, rum, drambuie, sweet sherry or kirsch to pureed berries, add whipped cream, stir slowly to create a marble effect without fully mixing both, and serve very cold decorated with chopped nuts.