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Choose Local Fresh Berries

Pints of ripe blackberries, strawberries and blueberries

July is National Berries Month, a time to enjoy everything from strawberries and blackberries to blueberries, raspberries and other berries.

Berries are a healthy food choice as they are bursting with vitamins and minerals. Many, including blueberries, are classified as among the top 11 foods for antioxidant activity.  Antioxidants may help increase our immune function and protect against cancer and heart disease.

Most kids don't need any extra incentive to gobble them up as berries are so colorful and tasty. However, there are many fun things that you can do to turn an ordinary snack into something extra-special. Check out these tips for ways to include more berries in your snacks and meals:

  • Add berries to foods you already eat. Try adding sliced strawberries to a bowl of whole-grain cereal, stir raspberries into vanilla yogurt or sprinkle blueberries on a green salad.
  • For a snack, make fruit kabobs that incorporate berries with other fruits such as pineapple chunks, bananas and grapes. You also could grill the kabobs and serve with dinner.
  • If you like ice cream, try cutting your portion size in half and add different berries to make your cool treat higher in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
  • Freeze some berries and use to make a smoothie. Blend together berries, yogurt and 100 percent juice or take this mixture and make fruit popsicles.
  • Make dried fruit using a dehydrator or your oven set at a low temperature. Keep handy for a quick snack.
  • Spread reduced-fat cream cheese on a whole-wheat mini-bagel and decorate with berries.
  • Spread cream cheese on a puffed popcorn cake or bagel. Decorate with blueberries for eyes and mouth and a strawberry for the nose for a special snack for your kids.
  • Frozen treats are bound to be popular in the warm months. Just wash the berries and place in the freezer to eat frozen later.
  • Serve berries with a yogurt and cinnamon dip or a peanut butter, maple syrup and vanilla yogurt dip.

HOW TO SELECT BERRIES

Avoid buying or picking bruised or oozing berries. If buying at the store or farm stand, make sure you turn the container over to check the berries at the bottom. Look for firm, plump, full-colored berries.

At home, remove any spoiled or crushed fruits. Store unwashed in plastic bags or covered containers. Do not remove green tops from strawberries before storing.

Refrigerate in the crisper until ready to serve for up to two to three days. Wash fruits immediately before preparing or eating. Under clean, running water, rub fruits briskly with your hands and dry by placing the berries in a single layer between paper towels.

For specific storage information on a particular fruit or vegetable, please refer to http://www.uvm.edu/extension/food/pdfs/preservation/storagecharthomeproduce.pdf

OTHER LOCALLY GROWN FRUITS

Peaches also may be purchased locally although in most areas won't be ready to pick until August along with local plums and cherries. In addition, a variety of melons are available in late summer. In September, shop for local apples and pears.

So this summer, try to select local, fresh fruits to add to your meals and snacks.

Here are two recipes to get your family on the road to eating more berries this summer:

BERRY SCONES

Serves 12. Scones are a favorite way to use fresh, seasonal berries. They are quick to make and use very little sugar.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 4 tsps. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/3 cup cold butter or margarine, cubed
  • 1 3/4  cups buttermilk
  • 1 1/2  cups fresh blueberries or berries of your choice
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar

In a large bowl, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Cut in butter or margarine until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in buttermilk just until moistened. Stir in blueberries. Turn onto a floured surface; gently knead 10 times. Transfer dough to a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Pat into a 9-in. circle. Cut into 12 wedges, but do not separate. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375 F for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

 

YOGURT BERRY PARFAIT

Serves 1

  • 1/2 cup non-fat vanilla yogurt
  • 1/2 cup berries
  • 1 Tbsp. crunchy cereal

In a cup, alternate several layers of yogurt and berries. Top with crunchy cereal.  Serve.

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