The flavor of fresh strawberries puts them on the menu during the months of May and June. Prices tend to drop a little during May and June, because local berries take a starring role in local gardens. The California berries are large and easy to find, but it is tough to beat the flavor of a fresh-picked, home-grown strawberry.
With all the good eating they afford, it is nice to know that they are also very nutritious. Ounce for ounce, strawberries have more vitamin C than citrus fruit. A cup of strawberries will supply 150 percent of the recommended human daily requirement of vitamin C and in addition, they add important trace minerals like folate and potassium, which are good to help with bone mass. They provide all that and add only 50 calories to the daily diet.
According to the American Cancer Society, the anthocyanins found in strawberries are anti-carcinogenic. Foods rich in vitamin C may lower the risk of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract as well as reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Wild strawberries grow on every continent except Africa and Australia/New Zealand, and they make attractive ground covers. However, wild berries are often small and tasteless and may be colors other than red. The Romans prized wild strawberries for their medicinal properties.
The berries we enjoy are the products of years of cross breeding. The ones we eat today come from a cross made in France 250 years ago between fruits from North America and South America. Early European explorers of the 1500s took samples from the Virginia area back to Europe where they attracted a lot of attention because the North American berries produced larger fruit, were more productive and had brighter red coloring than those common to Europe at the time.
For top quality when buying berries, look for bright red berries that are red throughout the fruit. If they are picked before they color, they may eventually get softer but they will never get sweeter or tastier.
Another indicator is the outside sheen of the berry. Fresh berries have a shiny appearance, but as they age, they lose that gloss.
The cap, or green leaf structure on the top of the berry, will be bright green and not wilted.
When looking for the best bargain, compare the container size and quality.
Strawberries are perishable. Get them home and in the refrigerator as soon as possible. Do not leave them in a hot car or sitting on the table.
Do not wash them until you plan to prepare or process them. You may find that now is not the time to prepare jams and jellies. Freeze fruit to be made into jam or jelly as you have time.
Strawberries lend themselves to freezing. They can be packaged as jam — a universal favorite — or as fresh fruit to use for other dishes. When you package them in a freezer bag with sugar added, they are ready to go for toppings or sweetened dishes. The sugar helps them keep their color longer in storage. However, packaging them so you can pick out a couple and toss into a smoothie or to top off cereal is convenient. Try tray freezing (see below) for this option.
When strawberries are in plentiful supply, home cooks find many ways to use them in bulk. Plan ahead by knowing the equivalents for measuring strawberries (see below).
Spring menus are the beginning of a summer of fresh fruits and vegetables. Menus often include light meals with tasty salads. Mixing strawberries into a freshly tossed salad gives it a new twist. Top it with a fruity vinaigrette, poppy seed or similar dressing and you have a winning flavor.
Strawberry Spinach Salad
10 oz. fresh spinach or baby spinach (remove stems if desired)
1 lb. strawberries, sliced
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup sugar, divided
3 tbsp. lemon juice
6 tbsp. vegetable oil
To make caramelized nuts, heat 1/4 cup sugar and almonds in small pan, stirring constantly until sugar caramelizes. Remove from heat, cool and crumble. To make dressing, mix 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice until the sugar is dissolved. Add oil and whisk together. Refrigerate until needed. Toss spinach, strawberries and dressing in a large bowl. Top with nuts.
1 1/2 pounds = 2 pints or 1 quart
1 small basket = 1 pint
1 pint = 3 1/4 cups whole berries
1 pint = 2 1/4 cups sliced berries
1 pint – 1 2/3 cup pureed berries
1 cup = about 4 ounces
Use only firm, unblemished fruit to freeze. Soft, overripe fruit will turn to mush when defrosted.
Wash fruits before removing tops so they don’t absorb water before processing. Remove tops from the fruit if desired. Spread on a cookie sheet. Place sheet in the freezer and freeze until hard. Remove berries from tray and drop into a freezer bag or use a heat sealer. Remove air as much as possible, seal and place immediately in freezer for storage. Use within a couple of months before the color begins to change. Sugar can be added before freezing, but fruit will soften and lose its shape.
Using Frozen Berries
To make pies or muffins using tray-frozen fruits or berries, do not defrost before adding to the pie crust or batter. Add a few extra minutes to the baking time for muffins and 15 to 20 minutes for pies. You may need to cover the edges of the pie crust with foil for the beginning of the baking time to avoid over-baking them. Increase the thickening for berry pies by half as much. For example, if your recipe calls for 2 tablespoons tapioca, use 3 tablespoonfuls.
Defrosting Frozen Berries
The best way to defrost frozen berries is to place them in a bowl and add whatever sweetener you plan to use. Do not stir. Cover the bowl tightly and allow to thaw. This will better preserve the color and freshness.
Overripe, unblemished fruits can be frozen sliced or whole if small and then made into quick purees when defrosted.