The chief nutrients found in berries are Vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Commercially canned berries almost contain added sugar which can double or triple the calorie count. In addition, during canning the berries are heated, which significantly reduces their Vitamin C content.

The principal types of berries available commercially differ in size, color, season, and nutrient content, but especially in regard to how sweet or sour they are. They include smooth-skinned varieties such as cranberries, blueberries, and gooseberries; others that have fleshy segments, such as blackberries and raspberries; and the strawberry, which is known as a “false” fruit because it grows from the base and not from the flower.

For best flavor, buy berries when they are in season where you live. They will be undoubtedly riper, tastier, and less expensive than berries that are flown in from distant regions.

Choose berries carefully. They are often packed in opaque boxes that may conceal inferior fruit. If the box is cellophane wrapped, your best bet is to examine the berries you can see. Check the box for dampness or stains, which indicates that the fruit may be decaying. All berries should be plump, dry, firm, well shaped, and uniformly colored.

Except for strawberries, none should be a bright red. Pale, greenish, or yellowish fruit is unripe and will be hard and sour. Blueberries should be a deep purple to black and should not have any green or white patches. Currants should be firmly attached to their branchlike stems. Cranberries are usually packed in bags but you can still check them for firmness and good red color.

Berries are among the most perishable of fruits; they can turn soft, mushy, and moldy within 24 hours. When you bring home a box of berries, turn it out and check the fruit. Remove soft, overripe berries for immediate consumption. Discard any smashed or moldy berries and gently blot the remainder dry with a paper towel. Spread them out on a shallow plate or pan and cover with paper towels and the plastic wrap. Storage times vary slightly, but most berries should be kept for no longer than 2 days. Fresh, sound blueberries will keep for about 10 days; cranberries will keep up to 2 weeks. Raspberries, the most fragile of all should be used within a day of purchase.

Berries can be served in oh so many ways! Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Layer berries and yogurt on a sliced muffin for a breakfast shortcake.
  • Sweet berries are wonderful scattered on cereal or in a melon wedge.
  • Add berries to batters for pancakes, waffles, muffins, and quick breads.
  • Slice strawberries into a colorful salad of spinach and orange segments.
  • Pour sparkling wine over ripe strawberries or raspberries.