Before cooking or eating your berries, you should consider what to look for when selecting them at your grocery store or farmers market.
For berries: Look for berries that are firm, plump, and vividly colored. Sniff the carton to check for that fresh berry smell. Avoid buying berries that are in a damp container or are too soft, because they will get moldy.
For cherries: Cherry season peaks in June and July. Many kinds of cherries are on the market. Remember that the darker the cherry, the sweeter the taste. Bing cherries are traditionally the darkest and sweetest, although Ranier or Queen Annes are also quite sweet (despite their yellow-to-rose color). Sour cherries are used for pies and jams. These are hard to find fresh.
Look for firm, plump cherries with pliable green stems. Dry stems mean old cherries. Don't pull off the stems until you're about to eat, because removing the stems promotes spoiling.
Now that you've bought them, you might ask how to store them until you're ready to use them.
- You should use your berries within a day or two of buying. Store them in the carton in the refrigerator. Don't rinse berries until right before using them, because doing so encourages molding. Pat berries dry with a paper towel very gently. Berries also freeze very well, if you want to use them a few months down the road.
- Store cherries in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. You should eat them in about three days. Rinse and dry the same way as you would the berries. You will need a cherry pitter if you intend to cook with your cherries. Pitting them with a knife is incredibly tedious.
Blackberry Milk Shake
On a hot summer day, this pale purplish milk shake is a rich yet refreshing drink or dessert to enjoy outdoors. Pass a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies to eat alongside.
2 ice cubes
1 cup blackberries
2 Tbs. sugar
4 scoops vanilla ice cream, about 1 1/2 cups total
1/2 cup milk
Place the ice cubes in a blender or food processor and process to crush. Set aside 4 of the blackberries and add the remaining berries to the blender or food processor along with the sugar. Puree until smooth.
Add the ice cream and milk, and process until smooth or to the desired consistency.
Pour into 2 tall glasses and garnish with the reserved berries. Serve immediately.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles Series, Casual Outdoor Dining, by Georgeanne Brennan (Time-Life Books, 1998).