A Home Cook’s Guide to Berries
Isn’t berry season the best season? We love it when the refrigerator is full of bright red, hot pink, deep blue, and dark purples gems — and yes, we really do mean gems. To us, fresh berries are like the rubies, amethysts, and sapphires in the culinary treasure chest!
That’s why, at Gelson’s, we pride ourselves on offering the best possible berries all year long. We hand-select and evaluate each variety we sell for ripeness and flavor before they hit the shelves — and we prioritize sourcing berries from local farms whenever possible.
In this guide, we bite into the most popular berries in our produce department — strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries — and provide a few scrumptious recipes for each. You’ll find the usual suspects, like jams, pies, and muffins, as well as summery salads and even a smoothie bowl. And if you accidentally eat all the berries before you have a chance to make one of the recipes? We get it. (YOLO as the kids said back in 2012.)
Sweet, juicy, and bright, the strawberry … isn’t actually a berry. (Surprise!) A member of the rose family, it’s actually what’s called an accessory fruit — which is essentially a large “flower receptacle” embedded with the actual fruit, or achenes, that we commonly call the seeds. But that doesn’t sound very romantic, does it? Let’s just stick with berry.
Strawberries have grown wild in Europe and the Americas for centuries and were first cultivated in the late 1200s. These days, there are a few different varieties: There’s the tiny, elusive fraise de bois, which you might get lucky enough to try if you find yourself in a French farmers market one day. There’s also the beach, or Chilean, strawberry — which was crossbred for centuries with the wild Virginia strawberry to create the large, hardy variety with a deep color, flavor, and fragrance. That’s the one you’ll find in grocery stores (like Gelson’s!) all across America.
No matter the variety, we love strawberries all the ways. They taste amazing tossed in a spinach salad with poppy seed dressing — and you can’t go wrong with strawberry rhubarb pie or strawberry shortcake (perhaps in bar form?!). There’s also sweet, sweet strawberry jam, which is just delightful with a flaky biscuit and clotted cream. But of course, eating strawberries out of hand is a recipe for happiness, as George the TikTok-famous opossum well knows.
In “August,” the first poem of Mary Oliver’s American Primitive, she writes, “When the blackberries hang swollen in the woods, in the brambles nobody owns, I spend all day […] cramming the black honey of summer into my mouth.”
We like her style.
There really is something so poetic about plump, ebony berries that sprout from star-shaped blooms on thorny, tangled thickets — and that red foxes and black bears nibble on as they traipse through the woods. There’s also something so scrumptious about blackberries: at their ripest, they’re indulgently sweet, almost like candy.
Blackberries (which — did we mention? — aren’t technically berries either) can have a tart side, however, making them quite the versatile little fruit. We often put handfuls of them on cheese and charcuterie boards; they add just the right amount of pucker to cut through a rich brie and sweetness to balance some salty prosciutto. And speaking of prosciutto, here’s a prosciutto and asparagus salad with blackberry vinaigrette! Blackberries also transform into lovely wines and cordials, so no surprise, we love them in a cocktail, like this jammy margarita. Craving dessert? Here, have a blackberry and lemon cupcake.
Raspberries are perhaps the most fragile and delicate of the not-technically-a-berry family. They’re also the most intensely flavored: on average, each raspberry is made up of 100 drupelets, the individual cells of fruit surrounding the hollow core, and those teeny drupelets pack a ton of sweet-tart, slightly floral flavor.
Another member of the rose family, raspberries are available in three main varieties: red, black, and golden. Red raspberries, as you might guess, have the longest season and are available all year. Tangy-sweet black raspberries are only available for about two months in the summer. And golden raspberries, while available for almost the entire summer, have a completely distinct flavor from their siblings — more mild and honey-like.
Yes, raspberries are great for snacking. But they’re even better as dessert. Think: rich, decadent raspberry chocolate pots de crème, luscious layered trifles, and toppings for all manner of fruit tarts, like this grapefruit and almond affair. They’re also a match made in heaven with luxe, brunch-y cocktails. Raspberry mimosa, anyone? Or perhaps a raspberry aperol float?
At last — a true berry! Since all of a blueberry’s seeds are contained within that small indigo blue fruit, we’ve finally arrived at a berry that actually fits the botanical definition of a berry. Better late than never!
Blueberries are lightly sweet, juicy, a touch acidic — and also very cute. (Those frilly little crowns? C’mon!) The round, plump berries can be found out in the wild, growing on deciduous shrubs with pretty bell-shaped white and pink flowers. But blueberries are also extensively cultivated, especially in California, Mexico, Peru, Canada, and the Northern United States. (Looking at you Maine and Michigan.) And, fun fact, they’re very closely related to cranberries, bilberries, and huckleberries.
If a blueberry has a really nice, silvery frost, you know it’s good for eating — and at Gelson’s we always make sure the blueberries in our produce department are as frosty as can be. That way, they always have the best possible flavor and sweetness for everything from crumbly muffins and creamy clafoutis to frozen cheesecake bars and (our favorite) superfood smoothie bowls. Hello, antioxidant boost!