14 Mistakes You’re Making with Summer Berries

Whether you're making the rounds at the farmers market or heading out to the strawberry field, make the most of your haul by learning how to keep berries fresh and how to avoid common produce pitfalls.

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Child picking strawberry on fruit farm field on sunny summer day.
Shutterstock / FamVeld

Not choosing your fruit carefully

To get the most out of berry season, know what to look for in each fruit.

  • Blackberries: These berries should be firm and juicy looking. Avoid berries that look bruised or shriveled. Learn how to pick blackberries that are perfectly ripe.
  • Blueberries: Look for plump, firm berries that aren’t shriveled. You’ll also want to avoid berries with a greenish or red cast (a slightly silvery appearance is OK, though!).
  • Raspberries: Look for vibrantly colored fruit and avoid any berries that looked bruised. To make the best of your harvest, you must learn how to pick raspberries.
  • Strawberries: Strawberries will not continue to ripen after being picked. When you’re shopping at the grocery store or farmers market (or even picking in your own garden), look for firm, bright red fruit with as little white as possible.

Keep these tips in mind as you visit U-pick farms near you.

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Washing berries at the wrong time

For sturdier berries, like blackberries and strawberries, don’t delay when it comes to washing them! In fact, washing and drying them is a great way to keep them fresh (be sure they are really dry, though!).

For more delicate berries, like raspberries, only wash right before eating or stirring into tart and tasty raspberry recipes. Washing them too soon before eating will cause them to go bad faster.

Learn how to wash your entire farmers market haul with our tips.

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Heap of fresh blueberries in old enamel stainer
Shutterstock / De Repente

Washing in just water

To keep berries fresher longer, use a vinegar bath—that’s three parts cold water to one part white vinegar. This rinse will kill mold spores that significantly shorten the berries’ shelf life. Pick out and toss any berries showing obvious mold, swish the rest in the bath for about a minute, rinse thoroughly and make sure they’re dried before storing. This last rinse will ensure the berries won’t taste a bit like vinegar.

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Red ripe strawberries in a stainless steel colander are rinsed under water
Thomas Klee/Shutterstock

Using cold water to wash

No vinegar on hand? No problem. Dunking your berries in hot water (think between 120º and 140ºF) for 30 seconds will also help delay bacteria and mold for a few additional days. Dry and store them as you would after a vinegar bath.

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TMB Studio

Storing berries at room temp

While that fresh pint of berries may look super tempting and pretty sitting on your kitchen counter, it’s really not the place to keep them. To keep berries fresh, store them in the fridge.

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Close up red ripe fresh strawberry with green leaves in white cardboard paper crates on retail display of farmers market stall
Shutterstock / Breaking The Walls

Keeping berries too moist

One of berries’ biggest enemies is moisture, so make sure your storage conditions are as dry as possible. If using clamshell packaging with good ventilation, clean it before storing, let it dry and line it with a dry paper towel before adding the berries. For best results, though, specialized produce containers really do wonders at keeping berries fresher for longer.

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Blackberries in plastic container with strawberries in the background
Shutterstock / Chantarat

Keeping them on the refrigerator shelf

Not all fridge locations are created equal. To make them last as long as possible, put them in the crisper and make sure the setting is adjusted to low humidity. High humidity should be used for vegetables.

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Baskets of berries at the farmers market
Shutterstock / Lynn Watson

Storing them with other fruits

Sure, your organizational instincts might want to group all your fruits together in the fridge, but produce creates ethylene gas, which speeds up the ripening process. It’s helpful on the vine, but not so helpful in the fridge when you’re trying to get your berries to last as long as possible.

Indulge your orderly side with these fridge organization tips.

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Surlatable Strawberry Huller
via surlatable.com

Not using the right tools for the job

When you’ve got to hull pints and pints of strawberries to make a strawberry pie or strawberry jam, make sure you’re prepared to tackle this task. That means grabbing a sharp paring knife or even a handy strawberry huller. The right gadgets will make the process go much more smoothly. Don’t miss our other favorite berry tools.

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Taste of Home

Throwing away ripe fruit

It might be tempting to throw away berries that look a day past their prime, but give this fruit a second life. Preserve the taste of summer for colder months by pureeing them, pouring them into an ice cube tray and freezing them, or turning them into jam.

However, if your fruit is too far past its prime (moldy, squishy or otherwise), it’s OK to toss it in your compost.

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Skipping the freezer

When it comes to keeping berries fresher for longer, the freezer is always a good beet! Whether you find you just have too many berries to eat at once or you want to have summer flavors on hand year-round, clean them, dry them and stick them in the freezer. Learn how to freeze strawberries and how to freeze all sorts of fruits at home.

Looking to use up the berries in your fridge? Check out our 30 mixed berry recipes for fruit lovers.

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Closeup of frozen red berries on a kitchen counter in France

Thawing frozen berries

When you reach for those berries you froze a few months ago to add to Blueberry Scones or Blackberry Orange Cake, don’t take them out of the chill chest before you have to!

Add frozen berries right to your batters. Allowing the berries to defrost will turn your batter into a wet and berry-streaked mess.

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Ripe and underripe strawberries on the tree at the greenhouse garden in Japan
Shutterstock / fon thachakul

Baking with any berry—no matter how under- or overripe

When it comes time to whip up a cobbler, don’t just indiscriminately grab whatever berries you have in your kitchen: make sure your fruit is perfectly ripe. Not ripe enough, and it won’t be at the peak of sweetness and tenderness; way too ripe, and it will continue to disintegrate and become mushy in the oven.

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Using berries only in sweet recipes

While summer berries often have us all dreaming of pies, shortcakes and other sweet treats, don’t sleep on berries’ ability to punch up a savory dish. This Pork Tenderloin with Three Berry Salsa is a great way to use all sorts of berries while complementing savory pork.

Also try this Strawberry Tarragon Chicken Salad, Blackberry Grilled Cheese Sandwich or White Balsamic Blueberry, Corn & Feta Salad for more savory berry inspiration.

Kim Bussing
Kim Bussing is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. She has written for publications including Reader’s Digest, Modern Farmer, Clean Plates and Vice, among others, and she is working on her first novel. She is always on the hunt for the perfect gluten-free cinnamon roll.
Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa is also dedicated to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.