How to Use Leftover Berries

Sure, you can find bright red strawberries and perfectly packaged raspberries in grocery stores year-round (thanks to the taxing agricultural methods and transportation systems of our industrial food system). While those berries might look perfect, their flavor is not guaranteed. It’s during the summer time, when they’re grown and eaten in season, that these fruits truly shine. Juicy and deep scarlet in color, they are packed with flavor and nutrients and are hard to resist eating directly from the pint.

In greediness to get-them-while-they-are-good, sometimes I overbuy berries at the farmers’ market. I recently headed out of town still having two pints of strawberries in my fridge, and zero time to do anything about it. I stuck both in a bag — pints and all — put them in the freezer and hoped for the best. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been pulling them out as needed. Some got tossed into smoothies, some went into a coffee cake recipe, and the remainder I roasted into a sauce for strawberry shortcakes. This probably wasn’t the best method for freezing them (grab that below!), but it worked, and it meant I could use my berries instead of toss them.

Freezing berries isn’t the only way to save them once they get past that plump stage. From pickling (see recipe below) and jamming to using the strawberry greens, we have tons of ideas to save those sad looking berries from the trash can.

Buying and Storing Berries

Strawberries

Technically speaking, because their seeds are on the outside, strawberries aren’t a berry at all. But say that to any berry pie lover, and you’ll have a fight on your hands. When shopping for strawberries, look for deeply red, glossy fruit without any visibly bruised, mushy or moldy spots.

To avoid mold as long as possible, look over your pint after purchasing and remove any mushy or moldy berries. Toss the moldy berries into the compost, save the mushy ones for the ideas below. Store the remaining strawberries in the refrigerator in a paper-towel lined basket or bowl and wait to wash them until just before eating them.

Blueberries 

Depending on where you live, you might see blueberries as early as March (in some parts of Florida), but these tart, sweet berries usually arrive at markets in June and last through September. If you can find them, wild varietals tend to have a more concentrated quintessential blueberry flavor, although the more common cultivated varieties tend to be juicier. The berries should be plump with smooth, dry skin. Take a pass on any green or red tinged berries, which are likely under ripe, but if you see some with a white powdery coating, this is okay; this natural coating helps protect the berries.

If you plan to use the berries within a day, keep them at room temperature. Otherwise, keep them in the fridge, unwashed, until you are ready to eat them.

Raspberries, Blackberries and Other Brambles

Although most supermarkets only carry raspberries and blackberries, the bramble family includes a variety of crossbreeds like the youngberry, marionberry and dewberry. Head to a farmers’ market during the high summer months, and you are likely to see all variety of colors and types of these berries.

No matter the type, treat these berries with a lot of care; they are fragile and will spoil easily. Get brambles home quickly and refrigerate, covered with a paper towel to help minimize moisture. When you are ready to eat them, gently (gently!) rinse and pat dry.

Cherries

Americans eat an average of 2.2 pounds of cherries per year. Wow! And with a short season, between late spring and summer, we have to pack them in. When shopping for cherries, avoid any brown, bruised or blemished fruit. Although not as fragile as the bramble, cherries have soft flesh and are easily pierced. Store them in the refrigerator and don’t wash until you are ready to eat them.

How to Use Mushy, Bruised and Leftover Berries

A fresh, plump berry is perfect eaten as is. (I can personally toss back a pint of blueberries in a matter of minutes.) But mushy berries, no thanks. When your berries start to look sad, here are so many ways to use them.

Pro tip: When you get berries home, sort through them and pull out any mushy fruit. Place in a container and store in the freezer to use later. This will help keep your remaining fruit fresh, and will save your mushy fruit for future use, rather than letting it get moldy.

Preserve Them

Dried Fruit

Drying is a good technique to preserve your berries for later use; you’ll want to start with super fresh fruit here. Strawberries, blueberries, brambles and cherries all dry beautifully, and it’s easy to do. Simply place the berries in a single layer on a nonstick baking sheet and bake at 170°F, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is dried through, 4 to 8 hours. Rest at room temperature overnight, then store in airtight containers. Add dried fruit to granola, muffins, yogurt and more.

Frozen Fruit

Another way to store them for later is freezing them. Again, it’s best to start with fresh berries here (although my experiment proved even mushy berries can work). Rinse, trim if necessary and pat them dry, then place in a single layer on a nonstick baking sheet. Freeze at least 8 hours or overnight. When the berries are frozen solid, transfer to a resealable bag and store in the freezer. You can use the frozen berries for a number of the below ideas, but may I suggest tossing them into the blender for a strawberry daiquiri or raspberry margarita?

Pickled Berries

Pickling is a great way to keep any fruit or vegetable from spoiling, and berries are no exception. Great for salads, cocktails, sandwiches, with cheese plates and more. See our recipe below for inspiration.

Fruit Vinegar

Fruit can be used to both start the fermentation necessary to make vinegar and to infuse flavor into the vinegar. This is great for strawberry scraps, including the hulls and greens, as well as mushy berries. Use the fruit vinegars for salad dressings, marinades or add to sparkling water for a refreshing drink.

Cook Them

Jam

One way to both cook the berries and preserve them is by making jam. Any berry will do, and you can toss your bruised and blemished fruit into the pot. While refrigerator jam is easier, canning keeps it lasting longer. Blueberry jam, cherry jam, raspberry jam, which are you making this summer?

Ketchup

Are you intrigued by the idea of fruit on your fries? There are numerous varieties of fruit ketchup – the most commonly known being banana ketchup from the Philippines — and several made with berries. Try adding leftover blueberries or cherries into your ketchup for a sweet potato fry dip or a sauce for pork chops.

Roasted Berries

For a simple accoutrement, toss your leftover berries with a bit of sugar, spices if you’d like, and then roast until caramelized. Serve them alongside cheese, ice cream and sliced pound cake or other baked goods.

Sauce/Syrup

Those berries might look sad as they wilt in the back of your fridge, but turn them into sauce and they will brighten any dish. Adding a bit of lemon juice helps perk up the flavor even more. For sweet sauces — great for strawberry shortcake, pavlovas or pancakes — add sugar, vanilla and spices if you’d like. Savory sauce for grilled or roasted meats can use up herbs like thyme or sage.

Bake Them

Pie

Although pies can be a little challenging to make, berry pie is the iconic summer dessert. This rustic three-berry tart skips the pie pan and top crust for an easier approach, while this blueberry pie ditches the top crust but keeps the more traditional look. Or try a large format version to feed a crowd with this strawberry slab pie.

Cobbler

Instead of requiring the work of a two-crust pie, a cobbler simplifies things by topping berries with only a top crust, then baking. Since the fruit is baked, you don’t need to worry about using the freshest fruit. Bruised and wilted berries are perfect for this. Try it out with blueberry cobbler, blackberry cobbler, cherry cobbler or a mix of berries, or if you don’t have enough berries, mix in some stone fruit, like this peach-berry cobbler.

Cake

Although pies and cobblers are more common, berries are also used for cakes. Since they are folded into the batter, it’s okay to toss those mushy leftovers in! Most strawberry cakes use gelatin to get that classic flavor, but this recipe goes natural all the way. Use your mushy strawberries to create a pretty pink stunner. And this berry riff on upside down cake is the perfect way to hide the fact that you forgot about that pint of strawberries.

Puree Them

Fruit Leather

Any recipe that requires a berry purée is ideal for using those mushy, less-than-perfect ones. Fruit leather is a great recipe to try. Kids will love this strawberry recipe, but we’re into this more grown-up blackberry-chile version.

Ice Cream or Sorbet

At its base, sorbet is fruit purée. Take all those flavor-packed mushy berries, blend them up and turn them into a sweet treat. Or add heavy cream and freeze into an easy ice cream. 

Keep Them Raw

Infused Water

Strawberries tops don’t get enough love. Instead of trashing them, toss them in your water for a spa-like infusion or add them to hot water to infuse into a strawberry tea.

Smoothies

Toss whole strawberries (greens and all!) or other berries into the blender when making smoothies. This three-ingredient strawberry-banana smoothie couldn’t be easier, but there is a whole world of berry smoothies to explore.

Recipe

Pickled Berries
Sherri Brooks Vinton
Yield: 1 pint

Oh, how I love the intersection of sweet and savory. Like chili and chocolate or salt and caramel, pickle and berry were meant to be together. Warm spices such as cinnamon, star anise and cloves are a winning addition, as are savory herbs like rosemary, thyme or mint. You could also turn up the summer heat by adding sliced or dried chilies to the brine. Any kind of berries will work — blueberries, strawberries or raspberries are all great. Keep in mind that softer berries may breakdown, but that’s ok — the texture will just be more spread-like, perfect for adding tang to sandwiches. Pickled berries are as a condiment served with roasted meats, on a cheese platter or in cocktails.

Ingredients

2 cups mixed berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries or cherries
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2-4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pickle seasonings such as 1/2 (3”) cinnamon stick, 1 star anise pod, 2 cloves or any combination; 1 sprig rosemary, 1 sprig thyme; or several mint leaves; or 1 sliced jalapeño or 1 small dried chili, such chipotle or ancho

Method

  1. Place berries in a heat-proof jar, such as a canning jar.
  2. Bring the vinegar, sugar, salt and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a medium pot over high heat. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low, add seasonings and simmer for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Use tongs to transfer seasoning ingredients from pot to berry jar. Pour hot brining liquid over berries. Cool to room temperature, then cover and chill at least 2 hours before serving. Pickled berries can be chilled in a resealable container for up to 1 week.

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