Tips for Choosing the Best Ripe Summer Berries

The prime season for Arkansas berries has arrived, and I couldn’t be more ready. Arkansas strawberries are highly regarded for their sweet flavor and beauty. Along with blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, those strawberries are typically in season from late April or early May through July in our state. Even though many of these fruits are available year-round in the grocery, picking these berries at their peak ensures better taste and usually, less cost.
Here are some tips for knowing how to shop for and select the best of these fruits while at their best.

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For me, strawberries reign supreme. It seems I wait all winter for the first of the Arkansas berries to hit the market. When shopping for ripe strawberries, the leaves should still be attached, and they should be fresh looking. The berries themselves should be plump and bright red. White or green-tipped berries will not have their full flavor. One cup of strawberries contains 140 percent of your daily intake of vitamin C.

Store strawberries in the refrigerator without washing them. Rinse them gently in cold water just before you plan to use them. Discard any berries that are very soft or show signs of mold. Those can quickly contaminate the others. I prefer to flash freeze whole, capped berries rather than slicing and freezing in sugar.

Strawberry season in Arkansas is brief, so it’s important to set aside picking or farmers market time while they are in prime season. Several central Arkansas farms offer opportunities for picking your own fruit including Cabot Patch and Holland Bottom Farm in Cabot. Several other Pick Your Own sites are located around the state.

For additional information, consult the UA Extension Service.

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With only 83 calories, one cup of fresh blueberries is a nutritional powerhouse, a good source of fiber and vitamin C. Anthocyanins, which give blueberries their blue color, seem to be essential memory boosters and cancer fighters. Blueberries find their way into our family menus every day of the week almost without exception.

Choose firm blueberries that are good and plump avoiding any that show signs of mold or wrinkles. Store blueberries, without washing, in the refrigerator. To freeze, I spread them out in a single layer and freeze until they are solid before packing them in freezer storage bags. I do not wash them before freezing. They will keep for up to one year and can be used in practically any way that fresh berries are used. The typical season begins around mid-May through mid-July in the central part of the state.

Wye Mountain Berries and Flowers in Roland is a popular central Arkansas location for picking your own blueberries, raspberries and thornless blackberries.

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One cup of raspberries has 64 calories and is a great source of fiber and of vitamin C. They get their red color from anthocyanin which is an antioxidant. There are red, black, purple and yellow varieties. The red type is most popular in Arkansas, followed by black. Purple and yellow raspberries are more heat sensitive and don’t perform well here.

Since raspberries don’t continue ripening once picked, choose only those already brightly colored. A hull still attached is a sign the berry was picked too early and it will be sour. Again, always check for signs of mold or other spoilage, because raspberries are very fragile and will not keep well for more than two days. Store them in the refrigerator, unwashed. To wash, spray gently with a fine mist immediately before using.

There are a few opportunities to pick your own raspberries in Arkansas, but because they generally prefer a cooler growing climate, these locations are few. McGarrah Farms in Benton County and Wye Mountain Berries do offer pick your own for the short raspberry season which occurs generally at the same time as blueberry season.

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I remember as a child blackberry picking with my grandparents after getting all slathered up with some sort of awful smelling chigger-preventing concoction. Good sources of blackberry vines were always highly guarded secrets, so the trip always took on a mysterious air. Truthfully, I hated the picking – hot and itchy as it was – but I loved the eating.

Most of my blackberry picking these days is relegated to our farmers markets, but there are opportunities for picking your own. Renee’s Berry Farm in the Arkansas River Valley area at London is one to explore.

Blackberries, with only 62 calories per one cup serving, have one of the highest antioxidant values and are considered to be a top colon cancer fighter and may even reduce the effects of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The glossy black color is produced by the powerful phytonutrient anthocyanin.

Select firm, plump and fully black berries when picking. Blackberries don’t continue ripening once picked. Our blackberry season generally peaks in June. Flash freeze blackberries in a single layer before storing in freezer bags. Again, don’t wash blackberries before freezing.

Another listing of fruit and produce U-Pick farms is available on the Arkansas website. Be sure to check the latest listing and always call ahead before going. Arkansas Grown provides a county by county listing of participating producers for a wide variety of produce, including berries.

debbieaArkansas Women Blogger member and co-administrator Debbie Arnold pontificates and eats at Dining With Debbie. She and her Hubby split their time between Central and Northwest Arkansas. She loves to cook, develop recipes and have play dates with her two perfect grands. Mostly, she has play dates with the Perfect Ones.