A few evenings ago, I went to pick berries on Sauvie Island with some friends. After tasting several of the many varieties available, I decided on Hoods because the season is short and I am only human. (Once you’ve tasted the sweet flesh of a Hood strawberry, it’sIt’s hard to come back to a huge Driscoll’s.) After choosing a dish each, my berry pickers and I enjoyed a bowl of just-picked berries, store-bought angel food cake, and whipped cream in a box. It was a perfect time.
The next morning, I took a few berries out of my mouth, straight from the fridge. They didn’t taste the same. They were less sweet, more tart and tangy on the tongue. Had I eaten all the best the day before? (No.) Did the idyllic setting influence their flavor? (Sort of, yes, but that wasn’t the issue.)
As cheese and many other foods, berries taste best at room temperature. Warmer temperatures help your nose and mouth perceive their aromatics, which means they taste and smell better. (By “aromatic” I mean “to have a pleasant aroma” and not “containing carbon rings with alternating pi bonds”, although there is some overlap between the two.) Cold temperatures dampen flavors and odors, which is why my berries the next day tasted pungent and sour rather than sweet and jammy.
It doesn’t mean you should shop your berries at room temperature. Berries tend to spoil and go moldy quite quickly, so store them in the refrigerator – not rinsed – until you are ready to eat them, then wash them and let them sit at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes. The wait may seem endless, but the rewards, soft and scented rewards – will be well worth this interlude of a quarter or half an hour. Personally, I didn’t spend hours crouching in a drizzly field to eat squeezed, chilled, tasteless berries.