It was touch and go there for a couple of weeks this spring, but the weather turned, the sun came out and BAM ... we have an abundance of strawberries! Our locally grown strawberries can be found throughout the county at roadside stands, farms and at the Sanford Farmers Market.
Fresh strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C; just eight medium strawberries have 140 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C. That’s about 55 percent more vitamin C than you would get in the same serving of oranges. These delectable delights are low in calories one cup of fresh berries contains only about 45 calories. Of course, sugar and syrup used for freezing, or cream poured on top, can add extra calories.
High quality strawberries are plump and well rounded with a natural shine and rich red color free from white, green or hard tips. When purchasing strawberries, check to be sure unripe berries are not buried beneath a ripe layer on top because strawberries do not ripen after being picked. Their caps (hulls) should be bright green and fresh looking. Strawberries without caps should not be purchased, as they may be overripe and not of good quality. Avoid boxes of strawberries that are stained, leaking or showing signs of mold.
Fresh strawberries are highly perishable and delicate and should be used as soon as possible after picking or purchasing to ensure the best flavor and appearance as well as the highest nutritional value. If not used immediately, remove berries from their containers right after picking or purchasing, and place them in a shallow container; loosely cover and refrigerate. Use fresh strawberries within one to two days for best quality.
Avoid the temptation to wash the berries before refrigerating them. Washing strawberries removes their natural protective outer layer, and if done before refrigeration, quality will deteriorate rapidly. Wash the berries just before using. Leave caps on during washing to prevent water from soaking into the strawberry, diluting the flavor and changing the texture. Wash berries gently in cold water. Let the sand and soil sink to the bottom, and then lift the strawberries out with your fingers. Several washes in clean water may be necessary. Let the berries air dry, or gently pat them dry with a paper towel. Remove caps by giving them a gentle twist, or use the point of a sharp paring knife.
Freezing is the best method of preserving strawberries for meals throughout the year. Strawberries can be frozen whole, sliced or crushed, depending on their intended use in meals. Sugar or syrup added to strawberries produces a better quality product than unsweetened packs. Strawberries can be stored in the freezer at 0 degrees F for 8 to 12 months. Frozen strawberries can be substituted for fresh berries in recipes, however, the freezing process will make the texture much softer. Strawberries are best served with a few ice crystals still remaining. If thawed completely, they will become mushy.
Canning causes strawberries to fade, float and become mushy and is not recommended. These berries can, however, be made into excellent jellies and jams. If you decide to dry strawberries, select the sweeter varieties with a full red color and firm texture. Slice the strawberries for uniform drying. Dried strawberries can be powdered in a blender or food processor and used to flavor fruit beverages. The best way to dry strawberries is to puree them and make fruit leathers. Strawberries dried in the form of fruit leather make an excellent, flavorful snack or lunch bag treat.
Just like any fruit, strawberries taste best when picked fresh. If you have not had the opportunity to pick your strawberries and would like a list of farms with pick your own operations, check out the NC Farm Fresh website atwww.ncfarmfresh.com.
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s website, http://www.ncagr.gov/markets/commodit/horticul/strawber/recipes.htm has some great strawberry recipes.
North Carolina ranks fourth in the nation in strawberry production with approximately 1,800 acres of strawberries harvested each year. So, this season eat plenty of strawberries and support our local agriculture. I am sure you will find they are well worth it.
Susan C. Condlin, is the County Extension Director with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.