May 31, 1996 in Features

There’s Nothing Finer Than Ripe Berries

Martha Stewart New York Times Sy
 

It’s almost summertime, and that means berry season. Even though berries can be found in stores nearly year-round, I think ripe summer berries are worth waiting for. And there’s nothing better than a pail of berries you’ve picked yourself.

When I was growing up, we would feast on fresh raspberries that grew in our garden, and every summer we’d take trips to Long Island, N.Y., to pick strawberries for jam, jelly, ice cream and shortcake.

In many parts of the country there are local farms where you can pick your own berries. Not only do you get the freshest fruit at some of the best prices, but you can enjoy being outdoors on a beautiful summer day. It’s an education, too; I learned a lot about how berries grow from those forays with my family.

Whether you’re choosing berries from the field, a farm stand or a supermarket shelf, there are certain things to look for.

A ripe strawberry is uniformly red and wonderfully fragrant. The hull (green stem and cap) should still be attached to any strawberries you buy.

Other soft berries, such as raspberries and blackberries, have vivid color and are plump and juicy; they shouldn’t be moldy or so soft that they’re starting to rot.

When you pick your own berries, don’t try to fill a deep bucket; the weight of the berries will damage the ones on the bottom. Instead, fill lots of small containers - or pick right into a low-sided tray or shallow basket.

Soft berries are best eaten immediately but can be refrigerated for one or two days. (Blueberries can be kept for up to five days.)

All berries should be stored properly to keep them from getting crushed. First, throw away damaged, overripe or underripe berries. Spread the good berries in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with paper towel. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

If they need it, wash the berries very gently before using. Just remember that too much water dilutes their fragrance and may soften the berries, rendering them useless. I try never to wash raspberries or blackberries.

Berries can also be frozen for about a year. First freeze them in a single layer on a baking sheet, uncovered. When they’re hard, freeze them loosely packed in covered airtight containers.

With all the uses for berries, you may not end up with any to freeze.

Most simply, they can be sprinkled over cereal or ice cream, macerated in liqueur or served drizzled with cream. These easy preparations are some of best, but it’s certainly worthwhile to spend a little more time on something like this classic strawberry shortcake:

Strawberry shortcake

with vanilla whipped cream

Regular whipped cream can be used, but this vanilla-infused version is perfect for the sweet shortcakes and juicy berries.

For light, flaky shortcakes, make sure you don’t overwork the dough. (Serves 4)

2 pints strawberries, hulled and halved

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 large egg plus 1 yolk

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons heavy cream

Vanilla Whipped Cream (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place strawberries in a bowl; sprinkle with lemon juice and 1/4 cup sugar. Let stand to release juices, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Use a fork or two knives to cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Whisk together egg and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cream. Slowly add this mixture to dry ingredients; mix with a fork until dough just comes together. Do not overmix.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface; pat into a 6-inch square. Cut four 2-1/2-inch rounds; place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Whisk together egg yolk and remaining tablespoon cream; brush over tops of biscuits. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool slightly on wire racks, about 15 minutes.

Slice shortcakes open while warm. Divide strawberries and their juice among bottom halves of shortcakes; top with large dollops of Vanilla Whipped Cream and upper halves of shortcakes.

(prep time: 1 hour; baking/cooling time: 45 minutes)

Vanilla whipped cream (makes 1-3/4 cups)

1 cup heavy cream

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

Over medium heat, scald cream and vanilla bean; remove from heat. Cover and steep for 10 minutes. Scrape seeds into cream; discard pod.

Strain cream into a bowl set in an ice-water bath. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until cold, 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer to a large chilled metal bowl, add sugar and whip by hand into soft peaks, about 5 minutes.

(Total prep and cooking time: 30-45 minutes.)

MEMO: Questions should be addressed to Martha Stewart, care of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 10168. Questions may also be sent to Stewart by electronic mail. Her address is: mstewart@msl.timeinc.com.

This sidebar appeared with the story: HOW TO GROW STRAWBERRIES IN POTS A very good way to grow berries is in strawberry pots. They are easy to plant and, although they don’t yield a lot of berries, they make a lovely addition to your terrace, porch or patio. The pots themselves are available at garden centers and nurseries, as are the rest of the supplies: potting-soil mix (containing soil, sand and vermiculite), shards from a clay pot, gravel, a length of PVC pipe (with holes) just shorter than the pot, everbearing strawberry plants and water-soluble balanced fertilizer. 1. Before planting, moisten the potting-soil mix. This can be done by pouring water directly into the soil bag and letting it stand for several hours. 2. Place a shard or two in the bottom of the strawberry pot to cover - but not block - the drainage hole. Add a couple inches of gravel. 3. Insert the pipe vertically into the gravel, resting the bottom of the pipe on a pot shard to act as a plug. When you water the plants, the holes in the pipe will allow water to be distributed to the roots. 4. Add potting-soil mix up to the lowest pockets of the strawberry pot. Place one or more plant in each of the lowest pockets. Anchor the roots in moistened soil, press the soil down and add more soil up to the next pockets. Add more plants and repeat process until pot is full. Plant two or three plants in the top of the pot. 5. Water through the pipe until soil is moist throughout. Place the pot in a sunny spot and water daily. Fertilize after six weeks and about three more times during the summer.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Martha Stewart New York Times Syndicate

Questions should be addressed to Martha Stewart, care of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 10168. Questions may also be sent to Stewart by electronic mail. Her address is: mstewart@msl.timeinc.com.

This sidebar appeared with the story: HOW TO GROW STRAWBERRIES IN POTS A very good way to grow berries is in strawberry pots. They are easy to plant and, although they don’t yield a lot of berries, they make a lovely addition to your terrace, porch or patio. The pots themselves are available at garden centers and nurseries, as are the rest of the supplies: potting-soil mix (containing soil, sand and vermiculite), shards from a clay pot, gravel, a length of PVC pipe (with holes) just shorter than the pot, everbearing strawberry plants and water-soluble balanced fertilizer. 1. Before planting, moisten the potting-soil mix. This can be done by pouring water directly into the soil bag and letting it stand for several hours. 2. Place a shard or two in the bottom of the strawberry pot to cover - but not block - the drainage hole. Add a couple inches of gravel. 3. Insert the pipe vertically into the gravel, resting the bottom of the pipe on a pot shard to act as a plug. When you water the plants, the holes in the pipe will allow water to be distributed to the roots. 4. Add potting-soil mix up to the lowest pockets of the strawberry pot. Place one or more plant in each of the lowest pockets. Anchor the roots in moistened soil, press the soil down and add more soil up to the next pockets. Add more plants and repeat process until pot is full. Plant two or three plants in the top of the pot. 5. Water through the pipe until soil is moist throughout. Place the pot in a sunny spot and water daily. Fertilize after six weeks and about three more times during the summer.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Martha Stewart New York Times Syndicate


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