People often ask me about foods they should avoid to improve their health, reduce inflammation or help with weight loss. I don’t like telling people to completely avoid any foods that they enjoy, but I am perfectly happy to share with them which foods to include – this month’s harvest always makes the list.
Berries are small fruits that are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and heart-healthy fiber. There is evidence to suggest that compounds in berries may help maintain brain function and support healthy aging. But the best part, in my opinion, is that they taste amazing! They are very sweet, but also naturally low in calories and high in fiber, which makes them filling. For this reason, they are a great alternative to typical sweeteners which do not offer the numerous health benefits or fiber.
Safe Handling of Berries
If you want to fully enjoy their health benefits and taste while reducing waste, the handling of berries is important. Because berries tend to be soft and delicate, cleaning and storing them can be more of a challenge than with heartier fruits and vegetables. So keep a few things in mind:
- Whether you pick them yourself or buy them from the grocery store, berries should be stored in the refrigerator, but not in the crisper drawer, which can be too humid.
- Keep them whole and with the stem on if possible to extend their shelf life.
- Place berries in a container that allows for some circulation, like a colander, because keeping them dry and cool is key. In fact, berries should not be washed until right before you use them to prevent rotting and mold. If you do notice any mold on a berry, remove it immediately as mold will spread quickly and ruin the whole bunch.
This Month’s Recipe
Of course, it’s best to use berries right away to really appreciate their juicy sweetness, and this month’s recipe is a perfect way to use any berry.
Fruit crisps are easy to prepare and can be made with endless combinations of berries and other fruits – a few favorites of mine are raspberry and peach, blueberry and apple and of course, one of summer’s favorite combinations – strawberry and rhubarb.
This month’s recipe for strawberry rhubarb crisp uses only five ingredients in the filling but the result is extremely flavorful with a delicate balance of sweet from the strawberries and tart from the rhubarb. The crisp topping is also so simple to throw together, and the caramel flavors of the brown sugar mixed with the nuttiness of the oats really complements the fruit filling.
Another great thing about this recipe is that it can easily be made gluten free – just substitute 1-2 tablespoons of tapioca or another gluten free thickener for the flour in the filling and your favorite gluten free flour for the wheat flour in the topping. Make it vegan by substituting melted coconut oil for the butter. Although the recipe is excellent as-is, with some easy tweaks it’s a dessert that anyone can enjoy!
Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp
For more on berries including recipes, factoids, and fun activities for kids, check out the Vermont Harvest of the Month website.
Bridget Shea, RD, is a clinical dietician at The University of Vermont Medical Center.