Berries: can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Like many coveted objects, berries are both precious and frustrating, expensive and fragile. What is more maddening than splurging on vivid, juicy berries at the market only to find that your fruity jewels have turned to mush—or worse, have been overtaken by dreaded mold—when you return to them for a mid-week treat?
Don't despair just yet: This berry horror story does not have to be your destiny. The culprits behind berry mold are the evil, microscopic mold spores waiting to make a home of the friendly, moist skin of your gorgeous berries. Fortunately, there is a simple way to kill off the mold spores and bacteria that find your berries as delicious as you do.
It might seem counterintuitive to wash your berries before you're ready to eat them. One of the cardinal rules of keeping berries mold-free is to leave them unwashed until the moment before consumption. But, by washing your berries in a solution of vinegar and water, you can extend their shelf-life by days (sometimes even weeks!).
How to Store Fresh Berries
Step 1: In a large bowl, make a diluted vinegar bath—1 cup vinegar, 3 cups water—and give your berries a dunk. The vinegar will eliminate any pesky mold and bacteria.
Step 2: Next, drain your berries in a colander and rinse them under cool running water. This guarantees that you won't be able to taste any lingering traces of vinegar later on.
Step 3: Now that you've washed your berries, it's time to dry them as thoroughly as possible. Do not be fooled: Moisture is still the enemy. The same salad spinner you use to dry off greens can be used to wick the water from your berries. Line it with about three layers of paper towels in order to create a pillow for your berries, then spin your berries for about 15 seconds, or until they are completely dry.
Step 4: Instead of putting the berries back into the container they came in, where they will crowd each other, upgrade their digs. Place them in a sealable container lined with paper towels and leave the lid partially open to avoid trapping moisture.
No Vinegar? No Problem
But what if you return from the store with pints of berries only to realize there's no vinegar in the pantry? A quick bath in hot water will also work to destroy bacteria and mold spores. Dunk your berries in water between 120°F and 140°F for approximately 30 seconds. Dry and store them in the same way you would after a vinegar wash.
A Few of Our Favorite Berry Recipes
Once you've learned how to extend the lifespan of your berries, the real question becomes: What will you do with them? Here are a few ideas...
A luscious pastry cream and rich, buttery shell make the perfect complement to fresh summer berries (pick your favorites!) in this fruit tart from cookbook author, photographer, and food writer Jerrelle Guy.
In this laidback crostata, "lime stands in for the usual rhubarb to brighten the strawberries." The result: lively bursts of puckery-sweet strawberries and flaky crust.
Never made summer pudding? "Now's the time," says our co-founder Merrill Stubbs. You'll need just four super-simple ingredients (hello, mixed berries, sugar, white sandwich bread, and heavy cream). Once you've got those handy, all you need to do is assemble the layers and let them hang out in the fridge till you're ready to dig in.
This swirly sandwich is all about the whipped cream and berries—raspberries, that is. It's "a joyously messy experience and nostalgic even if you didn’t grow up in England eating raspberry ripple ice cream."
There are few better ways to let peak-summer blueberries shine than in this Genius pie that keeps the fruit's texture and integrity totally intact.
Do you have any tricks for keeping your berries fresh? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by James Ransom. This article was originally published in June 2015, but we're sharing it again for berry season 2020.