What is a berry?
Berries are a small, sweet, and juicy fruit that tend to be brightly colored, which attracts animals (and humans!) who help spread the berry seeds. Berries are grown and sold around the world. They typically grow on smaller plants such as bushes, vines, and runners.
Determining which fruits are berries is actually somewhat confusing. This is because there are two very different definitions of a berry: the botanical definition and the cookery definition.
Botanists define berries as a type of fleshy fruit that develops from the ovary wall (pericarp) of the plant flower. Berries can have from one to thousands of seeds that are embedded in the flesh of the wall. The berries have a thin, soft coat and do not necessarily have to be small or sweet. Blueberries and huckleberries are considered true berries. However, this definition also includes fruits not commonly considered berries such as:
On top of that, fruits that you would normally consider berries actually do not fall in the botanical definition. These fruits include:
These fruits develop from multiple pistils in one flower instead of one pistil like a true berry. They are actually defined as “aggregate fruits” because they are really made up of multiple, tiny fruits.
Cooks define berries simply as a small, sweet fruit, which encompasses all of the fruits commonly considered berries. Fruits that fall in this category normally have “berry” in their name, such as:
Fresh berries are best in season, which is generally from the spring to late summer. The more common berries are available in most supermarkets, but your best bet is your local farmer's market for the freshest and widest selection. If you are lucky enough to live in a berry region you can always pick homegrown or wild berries or find a berry orchard that will let you pick berries for a nominal fee.
Unlike other fruits such as peaches and pears, berries will not continue to ripen once they have been picked. It is therefore important to carefully select the ripest berries at the market. Look for fruits that are plump, firm, and rich in color. Taste them if you can to make sure they are not underripe or sour. When buying a carton of berries, be sure to inspect both the top and bottom for mold or crushed berries. They are terribly fragile, so handle them with care. Because of their delicacy, berries tend to be more expensive than other fruits because of the labor required to pick them, often by hand, and ship them without bruising.
Canned and frozen berries are available year-round and make an acceptable substitute for fresh berries. Dried berries can also be found either alone or in a trail mix. All sorts of berry preserves, jams, and jellies can be found everywhere. Berry juice can also be located in some specialty stores.
Storing and using berries
Fresh berries are extremely perishable and should be handled very carefully. They generally can be stored in the fridge for only a couple of days before they start to shrivel and spoil. Berries should be washed right before you are planning on using them to minimize bruising. Rinse them gently in a colander and let them dry on paper towels. Berries also freeze and can extraordinarily well.
Berries are used in a wide variety of sweets. When ripe, they are excellent on their own, with a bit of whipped cream, or dumped into a fruit salad. The fresh berries compliment puddings, sauces, and ice cream and sorbet. They make wonderful jams and jellies and are used to flavor syrups and candies. Berries are excellent in cakes, sweet breads, muffins, and pies. Finally, fermented berries make excellent sweet and flavorful wines.
The Joy of Cooking