It’s no secret that Mike and I love berries; we tout them in all our books as low carb, antioxidant rich, high nutrient density foods that fit nicely into even the most carb restrictive phases of low carb dieting…at least as we recommend it.
We eat them almost daily, made into a slushy Paleolithic Punch we wrote about in The Protein Power LifePlan, added to breakfast Power Shakes, stirred with some chopped nuts and protein powder into yogurt, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of lime zest as a simple dessert after dinner, or even baked into a Rustic Fruit Crostata for a change.
The problem with berries, of course, is that if you buy them at their peak of freshness, at your local grocer or Farmer’s Market, they have a maddening tendency to get moldy in the refrigerator in just a few days. It’s almost painful to bring a basket of fresh berries home, only to pull them out 3 or 4 days later to find them covered in refrigerator fur.
Having been raised by parents who were brought up during the Great Depression, it’s tough to shake the parental tapes in my head that chant: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. Waste not; want not! Eat your spinach, sugar, children in China are starving! Those phrases ring in my head to this day, along with the still-clear image of my father trapping a nearly-spent toothpaste tube between the bathroom door and the jamb to squeeze out the last tiny bit. It probably explains why I can’t throw away a rubber band, but that’s another blog.
With our kids grown and gone, meals most of the time at our house are for just two and a decent sized basket of berries can last us a while. In trying to prolong their freshness, I’ve tried several methods (most of which didn’t work well) but, finally, I hit on one that works famously for berries, as well as for basil and other fresh herbs.
Lately, our local Costco has been replete with gorgeous, huge blackberries at a great low price. (Granted they aren’t organic, which I much prefer, but I found a great fruit and veggie washing device at Expo West that claims to cleanse them of harmful bacteria and purify them of pesticides and toxic waxes.) To avoid the trek all the way out there (when in Santa Barbara) or all the way down there (when at our home on Lake Tahoe) we now like to buy 3 or 4 of the baskets, which even eating them a couple of times every day means they’ll last us 7 to 10 days. In days gone by, I would reject buying that many unless we were planning to entertain, because I knew I would surely be throwing half of them out, covered in fur coats.
The berries at Costco come in 8″ x 8″ clear plastic, clam-shell flats that hold about 18 ounces. When I bring them home from the store, I open the clam-shell and place a couple of sheets of clean, white paper towel, folded to fit just on top of the berries, inside the lid. I then put the clam-shell boxes into a zip closure bag and store them, sealed, in the refrigerator. The paper towels absorb the excess moisture and release it in a controlled fashion that keeps the berries plump, shiny, and fresh, and, best of all, mold free for a week or more.
In the case of berries, I never wash them until I’m ready to use them, otherwise they get waterlogged and mold even more quickly. Herbs I trim and wash, then either put into a paper towel lined clamshell or wrapped up burrito style and popped into a zip closure bag.
Two of the flat clam-shell boxes will fit happily into a single gallon sized zip bag and stack nicely in the fridge, which you’ll recall if you’ve seen Mike’s blog with the photos of him and our son, Dan, making the Cafe Americano video in our kitchen is a glass fronted fridge, so neatness counts! (I’ve saved a couple of them to store herbs and other kinds of berries that come in less stack-friendly containers, too.)
As a last berry-saving maneuver, if we’re headed out on the road and have too many berries left to eat before we go, I wash the berries, let them air dry, and spread them out onto a cookie sheet and freeze them, then pop them into a zip freezer bag to use later in shakes in a bow to frugality that would have made my parents proud.
Mine is a two-person household too and there’s been some awesome berries at my local Costco too. I will definitely try this–thanks for the tip!
I have one of those food vacuum sealers with an external vacuum port for evacuating special canisters and canning jars. Berries can’t grow little fur coats without oxygen, and they keep really well under vacuum.
And, you know how guacamole will turn brown in the fridge in less than 24 hours? Doesn’t happen in a vacuum canister.
COMMENT from MD EADES: Absolutely true. However, since that method requires purchasing equipment, it won’t work for everybody, whereas pretty much everybody has paper towels and zip closure bags. I have one of those sealers, too, and it’s great for all kinds of things. I hadn’t thought of it for guacamole, but next batch I make, I’m going to give it a try! Thanks.
I tried this with some raspberries, and it did prolong their life slightly, but they were still pretty furry well before a week was up. I saw a variation in the latest edition of Cook’s Illustrated, that involved washing the berries in a mixture of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water, rinsing, drying in a kitchen paper-lined salad spinner, then storing as you suggested. It’s more work, but after 5 days my raspberries aren’t showing any signs of mould.