The last couple of years the weather has been different, and we all know we just had a light winter and our spring was way too early and has caused much damage to our fruit trees. I grew up always enjoying locally grown produce and most of you have had this same experience before it became a trend. I think one of our fruit crops that might not be as affected by the early spring are the strawberries.
As I write my weekly column I sometimes am a bit behind and miss often when a local food is in its peak but this time I am going to be ahead. I will be honest and tell you that I could not wait for fresh strawberries and my taste buds have sometimes been delighted with the shipped berries. But I must add there is no strawberry like a plant ripened locally grown strawberry. Please don’t get upset with me – there is nothing tastier than locally grown produce, but when you see the strawberries and they smell like strawberries you just have to try them.
I want you to be prepared to enjoy our fresh, locally grown strawberries so I am writing before they are ready. The weather, be it rain or lack of it and all the various temperatures, the cooler weather we are having in May affects the strawberries. So my advice is when strawberries ripen locally, start eating them and eat them often!
Just think about the flavor of a red, ripe, juicy, delicious locally grown strawberry. I personally think that the flavor of the berries is best if you eat while you are picking, I have eaten berries to the point that I have paid for an extra quart as I am sure I have eaten that many. It took several centuries and a side trip to Europe to produce the strawberry as you know it today. In the early 18th Century, French explorers discovered a plump, red berry being cultivated by the Indians of Chile in South America. They brought several plants back to their homeland where in 1714 the Chilean berry was crossed with a wild meadow strawberry discovered a few years earlier in the North American colony of Virginia. The resulting berry was the forerunner of our modern strawberry.
When selecting or picking, remember to choose bright red, fully ripened strawberries. The berries do change color after picking but the flavor is not the same as plant ripened berries. The berries you choose should have a natural shine, be plump, well rounded, and have a rich red color, and have bright green fresh looking caps. To insure the highest nutritional value, flavor, and appearance, it is best if you use strawberries as soon as they are picked and or purchased.
If you want to store berries, they will keep best if arranged in a single layer in a shallow container covered in the refrigerator. The cool refrigerator temperature will help keep the berries fresh and bright for several days.
To keep berries at their best, don’t rinse them or remove caps until just before using. Washing removes the natural protective outer layer. The caps protect the strawberries nutrients, help preserve flavor, and texture. Remember that strawberries are delicate and require gentle handling. Never remove the caps before rinsing strawberries. To rinse, place berries in a colander or large strainer and rinse with a gentle spray of cool water. The caps prevent water and soil from soaking into the strawberries, changing the texture and diluting the flavor.
There are many ways to remove the caps. You can give the cap a gentle twist or use the point of a sharp paring knife. I recently bought a clever little tool for cap removing with a nice ergonomically correct handle and it really works. Pat the strawberries dry with paper towels before serving whole for dipping in chocolate, in fresh pie, sliced, fresh, cooked, flambéed, frappéed or any other way.
When it comes to food value strawberries are an excellent source of Vitamin C, with one cup supplying about 150 percent of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance for the average adult. You would not think of it but strawberries are a source of iron. Many Americans, particularly women and children, have diets deficient in this much needed mineral, so it’s good to know that one cup of fresh, whole strawberries provides about 8 percent of the USRDA for iron. So this is one more reason to enjoy them often. A real bonus about strawberries is that a whole cup has only about 60 calories. Sweet, juicy strawberries are a great addition to your healthy eating.