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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.
More: Even if your strawberries are past their prime, they’ll be perfect in strawberry rhubarb jam.
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!). 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.
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.
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 3 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.
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 as to avoid trapping moisture.
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 and 140°F for approximately 30 seconds. Dry and store them in the same way you would after a vinegar wash.
Once you’ve learned how to extend the lifespan of your berries, the real question becomes: What will you do with them? If you can resist eating all of your berries fresh, a blueberry tart, summer berry pudding, or raspberry swamp pie might be the ideal ending to your next summertime feast.
This article originally appeared on FOOD52. Words by Sarah Jampel. Top photo by Yossi Arefi, all others by James Ransom