To find the ripest, sweetest berries, it's best to shop at a farmers' market, pick them at a local farm or grow your own. A few berry plants scattered around your backyard or grown in containers will bear for years.
When you buy berries in the supermarket, your choice is often limited to fruits that have been harvested underripe so that they're sturdy enough to ship around the country. But don't lose hope: a bit of extra attention can soften these berries and improve their flavor. Then they're as ready as field-ripened ones for the recipes that follow, from a homey blueberry cobbler to a sophisticated red currant gelée.
Lindsey Shere has been the pastry chef at Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley since 1971. She is also the author of Chez Panisse Desserts (Random House) and is part owner of Downtown Bakery in Healdsburg, California.