Monday, May 10

Strawberries 101: How to Select, Store, and Eat Everyone's Favorite Springtime Fruit

san diego farmers' market strawberries

When my in-laws from Rhode Island were visiting recently, I mentioned that our strawberry season was coming to a close.

My mother-in-law said, "You mean it's starting, right?

"Nope," I said. "California's strawberry season usually starts in January and ends in June."

"But I don't understand. That's when our strawberry season is just starting," she said. 

Exactly.

California is the advanced-gifted child in the classroom of strawberry production. The United States produces about 2 billion pounds of strawberries every year, 90% of which are grown here. Thanks to our temperate climate, we're able to produce strawberries in the wintertime and ship them across the country. That's why people in Massachusetts can buy fresh strawberries at the Stop & Shop in frigid February.

It also means, however, those berries are "grown for production" --  picked ripe, but not at absolute maturity, and "gassed" (treated with a carbon dioxide solution to prevent spoilage) to maintain a 5-7 day shelf life.

In contrast, strawberries "grown for flavor" are vine-ripened; that is, they are not picked until fully ripe. The resulting berry is deep scarlet, sweet, and juicy. If you look inside of a vine-ripened strawberry, you'll see what looks like sugar crystals: they are the strawberry's natural sugars that provide its sweetness. As a result, vine-ripened strawberries have a shorter shelf-life of 2-5 days.

san diego farmers' market raspberries and strawberries

Almost every state in America grows strawberries at some point between May and July, which is when you should eat them. There is nothing quite as pleasing as the flavor of a locally grown vine-ripened strawberry bursting with natural sugar.

Since moving to Southern California a few years ago, I have spoken with many strawberry farmers and have learned some great tips about selecting and storing fresh strawberries. Here's what they have to say.

How to select fresh strawberries:
*Look for bright red berries with a shiny exterior and no bruises. Be sure the berry's "hat" is red too, which means there is no white at the top of the berry.
*Look for fresh, bright green hulls with no trace of mold or mildew.
*Buy large or small strawberries; size does not correlate directly to flavor.
*Check the bottom of the container. If it's wet, then the berries have begun to spoil.
*Ask about pesticides and other farming practices if that is important to you. Since delicate strawberries do not have a protective skin, they are more prone to absorbing pesticides.

How to store fresh strawberries:
*Always try to eat fresh strawberries the day you buy them. Otherwise, refrigerate by placing berries in a paper-towel lined plastic container. They should last 2-5 days.
*Keep berries dry with the green hull intact until you are ready to use them. Remove the hull with a pairing knife.
*To freeze strawberries, remove the hull, rinse, and pat dry. Place on a cookie sheet and freeze. Once frozen, place in Ziploc freezer bags, and enjoy year-round. The consistency will be softer, so they're best used in smoothies, jams, or sauces.

How to eat fresh strawberries:
*Toss them in salads. They pair well with spicy greens like arugula, sharp cheese like goat's cheese, and earthy nuts.
*Add them to toast, oatmeal, or cereal: Add sliced strawberries to toast topped with mascarpone or ricotta cheese.
*Dip fresh strawberries in melted dark chocolate or Nutella for a decadent treat.
*Bake with strawberries: Make cobbler, crisp, shortcake, muffins, scones, pie, cake, or just about anything else you fancy.
*Make smoothies, milkshakes, ice cream, sorbet, or drinks such as margaritas.
*Explore the savory side of strawberries: they are delicious cooked in sauces and salsas and spooned atop meats such as chicken or pork.

Are you ready to eat some strawberries now? Then check out these savory and sweet strawberry recipes:

strawberry muffin rack pink
Fresh Strawberry, Almond, and Coconut Muffins

skinny parfait 1 striped
Skinny Berry Parfaits

seductive strawberry salad
Seductive Strawberry Salad

pork strawberry salsa cut
Pork Tenderloin with Strawberry-Mango Salsa

strawberry rhubarb calzone
Strawberry Rhubarb Calzones

strawberry cardamom crumb cake
Strawberry Cardamom Crumb Cake

Here are some more strawberry dessert recipes you might enjoy:
Strawberry Cupcakes recipe from Milk and Honey Cafe
Roasted Strawberry Scones recipe from The British Larder
Strawberry Shortcake Sliders recipe from Simply Recipes
Strawberry Chocolate Chip Muffins recipe from Gluten-Free Goddess
Learn more about California strawberries: Decadent Strawberries Sweet in Summertime

27 comments:

Jessica @ How Sweet said...

That skinny parfait is what I'm having for a snack later. Maybe' I'll have 2! Looks that good.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

What a great selection of recipes!

Cheers,

Rosa

Bellini Valli said...

We have had strawberries in the grocery stores for some time now thanks to California, but I agree that there is nothing like a sun-ripened berry picked from the vine. But who can resist the strawberries we have in the grocers now for $1.99 a package:D

The French said...

Yes, I'm ready to eat strawberries now!

I think they are #3 on the Worst Pesticides list so I try and buy organic as often as I can:)

Karen said...

Lots of good tips, Susan! The strawberry-rhubarb calzones look great!

Epicurette said...

I tried hitting the farmers market in NY over the weekend hunting for strawberries, but only one vendor had them and they looked pretty sad. The East Coast is still waiting. My strawberry ice cream recipe still remains saddly unmade!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

jessica-Yeah! I can tell you from experience that the second one goes down easily. ;)

rosa-thank you!

val-I hear ya on the discounted price. They are hard to pass up. But for eating out of hand, nothing beats vine-ripened berries.

thefrench-That's a great point!

karen-Those calzones are my FAVE way to enjoy strawberries and rhubarb.

epicurette-Mmmm... homemade strawberry ice cream? That's worth waiting for.

Joanne said...

Moan and groan. Thanks for all of these tips...that strawberry mango salsa is definitely going to be made as soon as strawberries come into season here!

stacy said...

We've been getting CSA strawberries *and* I have been buying them at the market. Every time I intend to bake with them I find that I have managed to snack on a whole pint. Oops.

When we were still in the Midwest we found a great U-pick strawberry farm and came home with about 10 pounds of ripe organic berries. It was fantastic.

Lynda said...

We are so lucky with the strawberries we have in California. I call them nature's candy, because they are so sweet. Thanks for the storing tips - although it's rare they last long enough in our home to store.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I could move to California just for those strawberries! Even in season here, ours never seem to look like that.

Rambling Tart said...

Thanks so much for the tips on strawberry storage, Susan!! I lost nearly half of my last batch and that made me sad. Now I know how to make them last longer. :-)

tasteofbeirut said...

A lot of delicious dishes to pick from! I have to try that salsa with the pork, a new one for me! Thanks for all the useful info!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

joanne-Glad to hear it! It's one of my faves.

stacy-10 pounds? Wow! You must have had some ruby red fingertips! Picking strawberries in the summer time was always a thrill when I was a kid.

lynda-Ha! I know what you mean.

lydia-My mom says the same thing. She says CA's berries look artificial, in the best way possible. :)

rambling tart-I'm glad to help!

tasteofbeirut-Fruity salsas are a delicious complement to savory meats. Hope you enjoy it!

Manggy said...

It's nice to know they can be frozen easily - I had to rescue a few from rotville. Some didn't survive :(

Kevin said...

Susan,
When I lived in Sacramento there was a strawberry farm about a mile from my house that had the best strawberries I've ever eaten. They were small things, the size of my thumbnail, picked ripe and sold immediately. Awesome!

Tasty Eats At Home said...

Okay well after talking about strawberries, yeah, I was in the mood, but after looking at your photos of your strawberry recipes? That was the killer right there! Yum! I could go for those muffins...or some bars...or heck, anything!

The Food Hunter said...

Great post...I'm reading it as I sit here enjoying some delicious strawberries of my own.

Sean said...

Such a coincidence -- my strawberry piece just went up on Foodista today: http://www.foodista.com/blog/2010/05/11/building-a-better-berry/ I was so impressed with the experimental berries they are working on.

Can I make a horrible confession though? I don't love strawberries. I mean, I *like* them, but I don't love them. That said, I've been making boatloads of strawberry jam already, tinged with balsamic and black pepper. I'll post on that soon.

Maria said...

Love this post. I am a huge strawberry fan. I want to try all of your recipes, especially the calzones:)

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I'm very excited. I visited the farm on Sunday, and there were hundreds of strawberry plants filled with blossoms. With any luck, I'll be making that strawberry cardamom coffee cake soon, Susan!

Kristen said...

My organic food delivery just dropped off a thing of strawberries and it was gone within 5 minutes. My kids are strawberry hogs. I sometimes wish I had to know how to keep them fresh because I don't ever get to keep them long enough around here to do anything with them :)

laurie said...

Thanks for the post! I always wondered when to eat them and how to store them! Thanks!
www.simplyscratch.com

kirbie said...

What a great informational post. It also reminds me that I need to go strawberry picking soon.

Anna@Tallgrass Kitchen said...

Argh! I need to stop reading CA blogs - we are WEEKS away from strawberries here in WI!!!

Kelsey B. said...

Once again, I love the northeast but am envious of all of your living in produce paradise. Strawberries all winter that are local... HEAVEN! I just started mixing some small local ones with my rhubarb, but they are not quite there yet...

Janis said...

Recently I have found that soaking my strawberries in a bowl and them spinning them in a berry spinner not only cleans them beautifully, but it allows them to remain in the frige for much longer! Up to a two weeks!!!!!

There was an error in this gadget