July means berries at the Evanston Farmers’ Market (Photo by Julie Chernoff)

Every summer month brings a bumper crop of something delectable to the Evanston Farmer’s Market, and early July means BERRIES. I’ve never met a berry I didn’t like, be they blue, black, huckle, straw or rasp! They are just so darn versatile, able to veer quickly from sweet to savory with equal aplomb. And while the beautiful, sweet strawberries are in their last week or so at the market, blueberries and blackberries should soon be in abundance, with raspberries not far behind. What to do with all this bounty? I have some thoughts.

Make a special salad.

Rinse and spin dry a mix of arugula and baby spinach (Little Gem lettuce would be nice here as well) and place in a salad bowl. Add a cup each of blueberries and raspberries (or blackberries), a handful of toasted walnuts or pecans (if you’re feeling ambitious, use candied walnuts), and crumble a small log of goat cheese on top. I like to add some chopped tarragon or chervil, too. Make a dressing with a tablespoon of finely chopped shallot, sherry or raspberry vinegar, olive oil, and a splash of walnut oil, if you have it, along with a sprinkling of kosher salt and a grind or two of fresh pepper. (I recommend a 2:1 ratio of oil to vinegar). Toss and serve with sliced grilled chicken and a crusty baguette.

Create an easy cocktail (or mocktail) mixer.

In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups each water, granulated sugar and berries of your choice. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice and a few strips of lemon peel with pith removed. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the fruit breaks up, about 10-15 minutes depending on type of berry. Remove from heat and let cool in pan for a bit, then strain into a jar, reserving fruit pulp for other uses (like topping ice cream or waffles). You’ll be left with an intensely hued berry simple syrup to add to lemonade, sparkling water or cocktails (a blueberry Gin Gimlet is a good go-to, as is a blackberry Old Fashioned). I do this with rhubarb in the spring and use it to flavor my Rosé Sangria and it is INCREDIBLE.

Chop up a fruit salsa.

Sweet fruits lend themselves nicely to spicy dishes. Chop up a cup of berries, and place in a non-reactive bowl with a cup of whole berries for textural contrast. Squeeze one or two limes over the top. Finely chop up some scallions and cilantro, and seed and mince a jalapeño and throw it in. Dice half of a sweet bell pepper (use yellow or orange with raspberries, red with blueberries) and a chunk of seedless cucumber and add to the mix. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper, and additional lime juice if needed. Feeling adventurous? Add in a little ground cumin or tajin seasoning. Great on grilled chicken or pork tenderloin, or atop brie quesadillas.

Freeze at the peak of freshness.

Be one of those people that thinks ahead. Buy a flat of berries at their most scrumptious, and freeze most of them to use later. You can throw them in a smoothie or a frozen margarita (highly recommend!), use in a cobbler/crisp/pie filling, toss into muffins or pancake batter… the possibilities are endless. Best way to freeze berries is to place in a single layer on a sheet pan and stick in freezer. Once frozen, toss into an airtight bag or container and store in freezer.

Try one of these tried-and-true recipes.

The internet is an infinite recipe resource, but how do you know which to trust? Not all recipes are created equal. Here are some I return to over and over that showcase berries beautifully.

Smitten Kitchen’s Blueberry Crumb Cake https://smittenkitchen.com/2014/07/blueberry-crumb-cake/

Bon Appetit’s Blueberry-Blackberry Fools https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/blueberry-blackberry-fools

David Lebovitz’ Mixed Berry Shortcakes https://www.davidlebovitz.com/mixed-berry-shortcakes-strawberry-shortcake-recipe/

Julie Chernoff

Julie Chernoff is a freelance food and culture writer and the longtime Dining Editor of Make It Better Media. She loves all things Evanston and has lived here since 1989.