It starts with strawberries in May and doesn’t end until sometime in the fall: It’s berry picking time in Tennessee.
According to tn.gov, summer is prime time for berries, with weather and area of the state having some effect on the berry growth.
Sweet, sometimes tart, and bursting with rich colors, berries help brighten any plate.
They can also help brighten a diet. Berries are filled with nutritious properties that serve the body and help to improve health.
“I don’t really have a favorite berry,” said registered dietitian Laurie McGuire, “but blueberries, if you had to pick, have the most nutritional value.”
A good source of vitamin C and phytochemicals, including lutein and beta carotene, blueberries can be effective in treatment and prevention of some diseases.
They have, she said, been shown to have anti-cancer properties, as well as efficacy in treating bladder infections, along with cranberries.
“I think that is why it is listed as a superfood,” McGuire said, “because it has so many good properties.”
And really, that’s what “superfood” means — a food that offers multiple nutritional benefits.
But while blueberries get a lot of the glory, other berries, including raspberries and strawberries, also are highly beneficial.
Strawberries are a good source of vitamin C. While it’s generally thought of as the cold-fighting vitamin, McGuire revealed another valuable effect of C: anti-aging properties.
“It helps to keep strong connective tissue,” she said. Translation: Strawberries are good for keeping wrinkles at bay.
As a rule, berries can help keep you looking young. They are high in antioxidants, which help to slow down the aging process, and keep us healthier. They can be beneficial in the fight against cancer and heart disease.
“If you can think of rust on a car,” she said, “we have oxidation in our bodies that goes on, and antioxidants help to reverse that process.”
Raspberries, she added, also contain vitamin C, as well as potassium, an electrolyte, which can help keep muscles from cramping.
And then there’s the F word: Fiber.
“We’re trying to get all of our clients to eat a higher-fiber diet,” McGuire said, going on to explain that fiber helps to create a feeling of fullness. “If you’re on a 1,200-calorie diet and you’re eating lots of fiber, you’re going to feel a lot more satisfied than if you’re on a 1,200-calorie diet eating Ho Hos.”
Berries, she said, are a good source of fiber and are especially beneficial in concert with whole grains. Think berries on steel-cut oatmeal.
There are myriad ways to eat berries, but one regional tradition cancels out their nutritive properties.
“The problem in the South is that a lot of people like to put berries in cobblers,” McGuire said, “which adds a lot of fat.”
Good alternatives? Berries on low-fat yogurt (even plain frozen yogurt), with a bit of granola.
But granola is also a high-fat food, so McGuire suggests substituting with Fiber One cereal for some crunch.
And what of the exotic berries, the ever-so-trendy acai and goji?
They have their benefits, McGuire said, but there’s a downside as well. Because while goji and acai berries have great nutritional properties, chances are they’re not being grown on a farm in Tennessee.
“Try to buy local so you can get fresh,” she said. “The acai berries are coming from Brazil, and by the time they get here, they’re not fresh.”
Also, berries in capsule form? Skip ’em. Just eat a handful.
“I think we’re kind of lazy here in this country. We want to just take a pill instead of having the fruit, but I think it’s better to stick with local farmers’ fresh berries.”
Grilled Berry Pizza with Goat Cheese
Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 10 minutes. Yield: 8 servings.
1 16-ounce purchased pizza dough
All-purpose flour, for dough
4 ounces low-fat goat or feta cheese, crumbled
2 cups assorted berries (blueberries and blackberries)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or basil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Balsamic vinegar, preferably aged, for serving
Prepare a medium-hot fire in an outdoor grill. For a gas grill, preheat on high, then adjust to medium-high (about 450 F). For a charcoal grill, let coals burn for about 15 minutes after white ashes form on surface and you can hold your hand just above cooking grate for about 3 seconds.
Lightly flour large rimless cookie sheet or upturned baking sheet. Place dough on sheet and pat and stretch into 12-inch diameter round. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand 10 minutes. Shake sheet to be sure dough is not sticking and slides easily. Add additional flour under dough, if needed.
Coat grill grate lightly with oil. Slide dough off sheet onto grill. Cover and grill until underside of dough is golden brown and toasted, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn dough and use pastry brush (preferably long-handled) to brush off excess flour. Scatter cheese, then berries, over dough.
Cover and grill until other side is toasted and dough is cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes more.
Transfer to serving platter.
Gently press berries into cheese. Sprinkle pizza with mint and several grinds of pepper. Cut into 8 wedges. Serve hot, with balsamic vinegar to taste.
— From Driscoll’s
Ruby Raspberry Vinegar
3 cups raspberries
2 (17-ounce) bottles white wine or champagne vinegar
1 cup sugar
Combine the raspberries, vinegar and sugar in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer 10 minutes. Pour through a fine-meshed strainer into hot sterilized jars or bottles. Use the back of a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the pulp. Seal and store in the refrigerator. Yield: 5 cups.
— From www.tn.gov
Strawberry Italian Ice
1 cup sugar
3⁄4 cup water
1 tablespoon finely shredded orange peel
2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
11⁄2 teaspoons finely shredded lime peel
1⁄3 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 cups sliced fresh strawberries
In a medium saucepan combine sugar, water and peels. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Cool slightly. Strain and discard peels. Stir in orange, lemon and lime juices.
In a blender container or food-processor bowl, combine half of the juice mixture and half of the strawberries. Cover and blend or process with several on/off turns or until nearly smooth (leave some small chunks of strawberries). Transfer to a 2-quart freezer container. Repeat with remaining juice mixture and strawberries. Cover and freeze 6 hours or overnight, stirring once after freezing for 3 hours.
To serve, scrape across frozen mixture with a large spoon and place into individual serving dishes (if mixture is too firm, let stand at room temperature 20 to 30 minutes). Makes 8 servings.
— From Better Homes and Gardens
Blueberry Beef Burgers
2 slices whole-wheat country bread, crusts removed, torn into pieces
1⁄3 cup fresh or frozen and thawed blueberries
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
12 ounces 90 percent-lean ground beef
Place bread in a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs. Transfer to a large bowl. (No need to wash the work bowl.)
Add blueberries, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire, garlic, salt and pepper to the food processor; process until pureed. Scrape into the bowl with the bread crumbs. Add ground beef and mix well with a potato masher. Divide the mixture into four equal portions; form into 1⁄2-inch-thick patties, about 4 inches in diameter.
Meanwhile, heat broiler or heat an indoor or outdoor grill to medium-high. If using the broiler, coat a broiler pan with cooking spray. If using a grill, oil the grill rack by rubbing it with an oil-soaked paper towel. Cook patties until browned and no longer pink in the center, 4 to 5 minutes per side. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the center should register 160 F.
Serve immediately, with or without rolls and toppings.
— From Eating Well
Fresh Berry Napoleons
8 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
Nonstick cooking spray
2 tablespoons coarse sugar
11⁄2 cups fresh blueberries
3 tablespoons orange juice
1⁄4 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon butter (no substitutes)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons cold water
1 teaspoon water
2 cups mixed fresh berries, such as blueberries, blackberries, red raspberries and/or sliced strawberries
1⁄3 cup frozen light whipped dessert topping
Mint sprigs (optional)
Place 1 sheet of phyllo on a work surface. (Cover remaining sheets to prevent them from drying out.) Lightly coat phyllo sheet with cooking spray. Top with another sheet of phyllo; coat with cooking spray. Lightly sprinkle with some of the coarse sugar. Repeat layering with remaining phyllo sheets, cooking spray and coarse sugar, coating each sheet with cooking spray and sprinkling every other sheet with some of the coarse sugar. Cut the stack crosswise into six even strips. Cut each strip crosswise into three 2- by 3-inch rectangles (you should have 18 rectangles).
Place all of the stacks on ungreased cookie sheets. (There will be 2 extra phyllo stacks to use in case any break.) Bake in a 350 F oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden. Remove and cool on wire racks.
For blueberry curd, combine 11⁄2 cups blueberries, orange juice and orange peel in a medium saucepan. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat; cool slightly (about 10 minutes). Transfer blueberry mixture to a blender or food processor. Cover and blend or process until smooth. Return to saucepan. Stir in 2 tablespoons sugar and the butter.
In a small bowl combine the cornstarch and 2 teaspoons cold water. Add to blueberry mixture in saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove from heat; transfer to a bowl. Cover surface with plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or overnight.
To serve, stir together 1 tablespoon of the blueberry curd and 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl; set aside. Divide remaining blueberry curd in half. Place 1 phyllo stack on each of 8 dessert plates. Spoon half of the blueberry curd evenly atop phyllo stacks. Spoon 1⁄4 cup fruit atop each stack. Spoon remaining half of blueberry curd evenly atop fruit. Top each stack with another phyllo stack. Top each dessert with some of the whipped topping. Drizzle with the reserved blueberry curd mixture. If desired, garnish with mint sprigs. Makes 8 servings.
— From Better Homes and Gardens
BERRIES IN SEASON
- May 1-June 10: Strawberries
- May 20-Oct. 10: Raspberries
- June 7-Oct. 10: Blackberries
- June 21-Aug. 21: Blueberries
- June 21-Aug. 21: Boysenberries
Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...