Part 1: Strawberries
Your local farmers’ market is gearing up for the summer season with farmers harvesting wonderful fresh spring and summer fruits. You’ll begin to see the “fruits of their labor” in May with the arrival of plump strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. These sweet little gems are more popular and better for you than any other fruit. Rich in vitamins B1 and B2, loaded with vitamin C, and with considerable quantities of calcium, magnesium and iron, they provide heart-healthy benefits at fairly low cost and with amazing versatility and taste in recipes. Make berries part of your diet each day by adding them to your whole grain or bran breakfast cereals and low-fat yogurts, tossing in a green salad, or topping your light summer desserts – or just grab a handful and munch away! You will reap the healthy benefits and improve your diet.
California is by far the nation’s top producer of strawberries. They are grown from San Diego all the way to the northern counties above San Francisco. Nearly 85% of the country’s strawberries are produced here. Locally-grown strawberries are the cultivated desendants of the original wild varieties. Strawberries thrive along California’s coast because western ocean exposure and Pacific winds insulate the fields from extreme temperatures and weather, providing ideal conditions for growing strawberries year-round.
Peak strawberry season occurs in April, May and June, with harvests of about 50 million pounds per week. All strawberries are picked, sorted and packed in the field by hand. Within 24 hours these strawberries are on their way to your local farmers’ markets to ensure the highest quality at the peak of freshness.
This luscious fruit can be traced as far back as the Romans. The most common explanation of how strawberries go their name is that children in the nineteenth century threaded the berries onto straw and offered them for sale.
Fresh strawberries began to flourish in California in the late 1950’s due to improved agricultural technologies. California strawberry farmers were also one of the first agricultural groups to adopt innovative drip irrigation technology for water conservation.
The size of a berry does not denote sweetness – large ones can be as sweet as smaller ones. Sweetness is a matter of ripeness. Strawberries are picked at their peak and do not ripen after harvesting, so select berries that are bright red in color and that have a natural sheen with fresh looking green caps. Avoid strawberries with green or white tips. If boxed in cardboard or other paper products, pay particular attention to any dampness and/or staining, especially at the bottom of the container. This may be evidence of significantly overripe, even decaying fruit. Store strawberries in the refrigerator in a single layer on a paper towel in a moisture proof container. Eat them within 48 – 72 hours, or freeze them (See tip below). Do not wash them until you are ready to eat them, or they will become too soft.
Tip: Most berries freeze nicely, and will keep up to ten months in the freezer. To freeze berries, rinse them gently and dry in a colander or on paper towels, and put them on a sheet pan or tray in the freezer. When frozen, (about an hour) put the berries in a bag. When done in this way they won’t stick to each other and you can measure out as much as you want for your morning cereal, for ice cream topping, and for pies, cobblers, cakes, and pastries.
Strawberry Breakfast Bread
2 pints strawberries
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup chopped nuts
Pour strawberries into blender and blend until smooth, leaving some chunks. Pour into saucepan and heat to boiling over medium heat. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Mix sugar, shortening and eggs. Combine dry ingredients and add water. Stir in strawberry pureé and nuts.
Pour batter into greased 9×5 inch loaf pan. Bake at 350°F for 1 hour or until tester comes out clean.
Cool in pan 5 minutes. Remove and cool completely on rack. Best served when fresh. Can be refrigerated for two or three days.
More great strawberry recipes can be found at PCFMA.com. Visit your local Bay Area farmers’ market for luscious fresh strawberries and other tasty local produce! Yum!