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July 2, 2014

Nancy Krcek Allen: Long live the berries

Northern Michiganders visibly soften when thinking of their first-picked strawberry; juicy, sun-warm and complexly sweet. Sure we love our first wild leeks and morels, but a binge in the berry patch promises an altered state of consciousness.

That’s why it is so frustrating to see berries deteriorate as soon as they enter the kitchen. It’s a race to use them before the tender fruits soften and mold. Food scientist Harold McGee has a solution.

Immerse them in hot water. That’s right, hot water.

Though it may sound counter-intuitive (and a “recipe” for jam), a dip in hot tap water suppresses mold growth on berries, many vegetables, grapes and stone fruit without harming the produce. This process, also known as heat shocking, lowers enzyme production that causes browning, wilting and softening, and helps to lengthen the shelf life of produce.

The water temperature and immersion time are key: the hotter the water the less time necessary. Lettuce needs one to two minutes at 122°F depending on its hardiness. Thirty seconds to one minute in 140°F water works well for most hard-skinned produce like citrus, asparagus, green beans, broccoli and cauliflower, melons, apples and stone fruits.

Arm yourself with a thermometer and a large pot. Fill the pot two-thirds full with hot tap water. Check the temperature. Bring it to 125°F by adding cold water or by heating slightly. Submerge strawberries, raspberries or blackberries for 30 seconds. Blueberries can take 140°F water for 30 seconds. Scoop out, drain and spread berries on paper toweling dry. (Optional: a brief immersion in cold water before draining and drying will chill berries quickly.) Refrigerate berries when dry. Prepare to enjoy your shocked berries for at least 5 days without loss or decay.

Fluffy Shortcake with Strawberries and Cream

Adapted from “The Joy of Cooking”

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