With the abundance of pick-your-own berry farms in Central Virginia, it’s hard not to get excited. Depending on the weather, strawberries usually show up first in late April, followed by blackberries and blueberries through August, and raspberries into October.
The beautiful berry colors come from plant pigments known as anthocyanins. While they make berries lovely to look at, anthocyanins have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, too. Studies have shown consuming these berries and other colorful produce can help reduce risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancers. Ongoing research suggests a possible link between eating strawberries and blueberries and improved cognitive function and memory as we age.
Strawberries are the most popular berries in the United States, with blueberries coming in a close second. They are both fat-free, low-sodium, and good sources of fiber. Strawberries have forty-six calories and eleven grams of carbohydrates per one cup serving. Blueberries have eighty-four calories and twenty-one grams of carbohydrates per cup.
Both berries are very good sources of vitamin C. Blueberries have about 20 percent of the total vitamin C you’ll get from eating an orange. Strawberries have 20 percent more than an orange.
If you can squeeze in a few days of picking, you should know that berries don’t ripen after they’re picked. When selecting strawberries, look for firm, deep red berries with caps. Remove any moldy or crushed berries before refrigerating, and eat within three days, as they’re very perishable. Choose blueberries that are firm, plump, similar to each other in size, and a dusty blue color. They’ll last up to ten days refrigerated.
Wait to wash the berries until just before using. If you can’t eat them all, freeze to enjoy off-season. For the strawberries, you can leave the caps on or remove them before freezing. First, wash berries and pat dry. Spread on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer so they freeze individually. Once frozen, store in a sealed, freezer-safe container.
Take the time to enjoy the fresh, natural, just-picked sweetness of berries with these two recipes.
Strawberry and Spinach Salad
For the dressing, whisk together 2 teaspoons poppy seeds, ¼ cup white sugar (or two teaspoons sugar substitute), 2 tablespoons olive oil, ½ cup balsamic vinegar, and ¼ cup water. Cover and chill at least one hour before serving.
Combine 5 ounces baby spinach (rinsed and dried), 1 pound strawberries (cleaned, hulled, and sliced), ¼ cup sliced sweet or red onions, and ¼ cup sliced almonds in a large bowl. Pour dressing over salad immediately before serving, and toss. Or you might place salad in bowls, and serve chilled dressing on the side.
(Inspired by recipes found at allrecipes.com)
Sweet Blueberry Quesadillas
In a saucepan, combine 10 ounces frozen blueberries, 1 cup chopped apples, and 2 tablespoons sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat, and simmer until fruit is soft (about 10 minutes). Set aside. Purée ¼ cup fresh blueberries. Spread 1 tablespoon blueberry purée over half of each tortilla, leaving a ½-inch border around the outside. In bowl, combine ½ cup shredded, part-skim mozzarella cheese, ½ cup fat-free ricotta cheese, and lemon peel from 1 grated lemon. Spread a quarter of the cheese mixture (about ¼ cup) on one half of each tortilla. Place 2 tablespoons blueberry and apple mixture on top of the cheese on each tortilla. Fold each tortilla over.
Heat a lightly greased, large skillet over medium-high heat. Add quesadillas and cook until crisp and lightly browned on bottom. Turn and crisp on the other side. To serve, place quesadillas on plates and top with remaining blueberry mixture.
Check out RFM’s pick-your-own farm guide here.
(Courtesy of Produce for Better Health Foundation)