Sunday, June 30, 2013

Vinegar Rinse: Keeping Berries Fresh

Raspberries in their vinegar rinse...
I have a local friend who has a large patch of raspberries. She calls me as soon as they start to ripen. I usually arrive within a day or so and pick my fill. My preference is to eat the berries fresh, sometimes with a dab of whipped cream. However, raspberries (and strawberries) have an unfortunate habit of molding within a day or two, so I usually wind up freezing about half the fruit. This is fine for jam, but it changes the texture of the berries, so I often don't enjoy eating them plain after the first day.

Last year, I read that mold can be retarded if the berries are washed in a dilute solution of vinegar and water. However, I didn't have the courage to try it at the time. It sounded awful; I feared the vinegar would ruin the delicate taste of the berries. This year, though, since the season is just starting, I decided to try it. If one batch were ruined, well--there will be others.


I used a few tablespoons of cider vinegar in a large bowl of water. I started timidly, dumping in just a few berries. Then I drained and tasted them. They tasted just fine. So then I dumped in the whole batch. I swished them around for a minute and then drained them all, first in a sieve and then on paper towels. Into the fridge they went.  The next day they came out slime free and still tasting fresh and sweet.

I feel as if I've gotten away with something.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Succulent Strawberries

Last week's newspaper reported that this was a grand year for strawberries. They were delicious and abundant. Oh goody! Fresh strawberries are one of the treats of spring.

My first batch of berries is usually eaten in the simplest possible way: I wash them, place several in a bowl, and then set out a plate containing a small pile of granulated sugar. Holding the berry by its stem, I dip it in the sugar and then eat it. Simple, satisfying, and tasty. My next way of eating is cut up the berries and macerate them with a bit of sugar, some triple sec, and some other berries, such as raspberries and blueberries. Sometimes I mash this up and serve it as a sauce over lemon sherbet.

As the season continues, I tend to branch out a bit. I like to add strawberries to salad, especially salads made with hearty greens such as spinach. I also like to add crushed strawberries to lemonade, partly because I like the look of it. If company is coming, I may make a showy but simple dessert, such as glazed strawberry pie. I generally start with a good purchased pie crust and then go from there. This pie has the advantage of combining fresh berries with cooked, plus a bit of cream cheese.

And let's not forget strawberry jam! Some people avoid making jam, fearing that it is difficult. However, with modern pectin, jam is relatively fool-proof. It's also fun to make. However, it does require some time, and it makes a mess of the kitchen. (I have never owned a magnetic lid-grabber, by the way. I use my washed hands.) I usually cut the sugar a bit and often add a 1/2 cup of blueberries to make the color more interesting. If you want to cut the sugar out entirely, or use a lot less than the recipe calls for, look for the special no-sugar-needed variety.

I package my jam in 8-oz. jelly jars and add pretty labels. If I really want to make a splash, I'll cut out a round of fabric using pinking shears and use this to cover the metal lid. A ribbon will hold it in place. Thus wrapped, jam makes great house gifts if you're visiting friends over the summer.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


For most of the year, I'm cold, so the thought of an icy beverage appeals to me only during hot weather. However, almost as soon as the weather turns warm, I start thinking about sangria. After lemonade and ice tea, it is my most frequently prepared drink.

When I saw sangria, I always mean red sangria. I've tasted white variety, but it never appeals to me. Yes, it tastes OK, but it just doesn't LOOK right. I like sangria to be vibrant red, so I never make the pale type. I also like it in a stemmed glass with a big bowl.

The recipe I use is very simple:

Peel one orange with a vegetable peeler, and mash the peel into 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar. I mash it using the back of a spoon. This releases the oils and permeates the sugar with them. Slice up the rest of the orange and reserve the slices.

Then mix 1/2 cup triple sec, 2 cups orange juice, and one bottle hearty red wine (zinfandel, burgundy, cabernet) and add the peel and sugar. Stir well and add the orange slices. Chill thoroughly. Then serve over lots of ice.

You can add other fruits if you have them, and some people even like a bit of club soda. I've never tried the soda—why mess with perfection?