Spring and summer, as you know, have been very wet. The fresh rhubarb has made for unlimited possibilities for desserts, and the rain has boosted local asparagus growth. I know there are strawberries year round in our grocery store, and they are good, but the bottom line for me is there is nothing like fresh, locally grown, plant-ripened strawberries. The best is when you can eat them right off the plant.

Just think about the aroma and flavor of a red, ripe, juicy, and delicious locally grown strawberry. I personally think that the flavor of the berries is best if you eat them while you are picking them. Yes, I know there is a food safety issue, but to me that is an educated risk and worth it. I will be honest and share that more than once when I have been picking berries I have eaten so many berries that I have paid for the quart I ate.

When I write my column I am often behind when it comes to local food being ripe. I know for a fact, this time I am ahead. The weather affects the strawberries, be it rain or lack of it, and all the various temperatures. The fact is too much rain is a challenge for strawberries. I cannot imagine that the berries will be seedy this year.

When the berries are ripe is the time to eat them every way that you can imagine and eat them several times a day! Sweet, juicy strawberries are a great addition to your healthy eating. I enjoy fresh and frozen strawberries just about every way that I can think of them. I would be hard pressed to say my favorite way, as I like fresh strawberry pie, fresh berries with shortcake, in a beverage, with ice cream and of course just berries.

One of the best things about strawberries is that a cup has only 60 calories. When it comes to food value they are an excellent source of Vitamin C, one cup supplying about 150% of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance for the average adult. You might not think so 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% of the U.S. RDA for iron.

When selecting, or picking, remember to choose fully ripened, bright red strawberries. The berries will 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, with bright green fresh-looking caps. I cannot stress enough the importance of a natural shine. 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 shallow container for refrigeration. 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 until just before using. Rinsing removes the natural protective outer layer. Never remove the caps before rinsing strawberries. The caps protect the strawberry’s nutrients and help preserve flavor and texture. They prevent water from soaking into the strawberries, which changes the texture and dilutes the flavor. Remember that strawberries are delicate and require gentle handling. To rinse, place whole berries, with caps intact, in a colander or large strainer and rinse with a gentle spray of cool water.

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 have 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, frapped or any other way. Get ready for strawberries!

Mary Ann Lienhart Cross is Extension Educator-Health and Human Sciences, Purdue Extension Elkhart County. She can be reached at 574-533-0554 or lienhart@purdue.edu.

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