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Strawberries: summer’s first fruits

Strawberries (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

Days are long. Nights are short. Farmers’ markets and farm stands are in full swing, open in spite of the pandemic. They are busting with summer’s first fruits — fragrant, red, juicy and oh so sweet!

Strawberries are the first of the summer berry crop to ripen. Sure, you can buy berries at the supermarket year round. But they simply don’t compare in flavor to fresh, local fruit. California berries, picked green and traveling for days in cold storage, cannot compete for flavor with our local crop. They’re often white inside when you cut them open, instead of bright red all the way through.

Welcome and enjoy summer’s local, yummy berries! At many farm stands, you can purchase fruit that was in the field that very morning. But an even better idea is to go to a farm and pick your own berries. Picking your own berries ensures the freshest possible product at the lowest possible price. It’s also a fun family activity. The kids will enjoy seeing how berries grow and eating fruit they have harvested themselves.

In addition to being superbly delicious, strawberries are one of the world’s healthiest foods. With only 55 calories per cup, this nutrient-dense fruit is an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, manganese, folic acid, vitamin K and vitamins B5 and B6. In addition, they’re full of unusual phytonutrients (like ellagic acid an anti-cancer compound). Some of the antioxidants found in berries act as COX inhibitors, reducing inflammation in conditions like arthritis and asthma. Their unique combination of phytonutrients means that the plump red berries protect against cancer and heart disease, and have anti-inflammatory properties.

This versatile berry is the most popular berry in the world – for good reason! Strawberry varieties grow wild on all continents except Australia and Africa. There are more than 600 varieties, with native European berries being smaller than American types. They were popular with the Romans and were cultivated in Europe before the Christian era. The cultivated berries we’re familiar with were created in France during the 18th Century by crossbreeding a large Chilean berry with a North American variety.

The season lasts only a few weeks, and the fragile berries don’t keep long. Treat them with care, and use quickly. Store in a cool, dark place and don’t wash until you’re ready to use them. Wash, then hull, then eat or slice or mash –depending on your recipe.

Freeze your excess for delectable winter desserts. Some do this by washing and hulling berries, then placing individually on a cookie sheet, freezing, and transferring to freezer bags once they’re hard. Another method is to use plastic freezer boxes. Wash, hull and slice the berries. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of sugar for every 2 cups or so, then freeze. These make great freezer jam and can be added to winter desserts.

Strawberries are so tasty alone, there’s no need to spoil them by adding too many things. You can add them to morning oatmeal; eat in a salad for lunch; make a healthy shake for a snack; eat with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Easy Strawberry

Yogurt Parfait

Ingredients:

1 pint strawberries

1 cup Greek yogurt (strawberry-flavored, plain, maple or vanilla)

1/2 cup walnuts

whipped cream

Directions:

Chop nuts fine. Clean and mash or slice berries. In parfait glasses, layer berries, yogurt, and half nuts. Repeat layers until glass is full. Top with whipped cream and serve.

Serves 2.

Strawberry or vanilla ice cream can substitute for yogurt.

Strawberry Smoothie

This easy, nutritious drink is refreshingly cool on a hot summer day. You can also eat it in bowls, with croutons or noodles, as a cool summer “soup” for lunch or dessert.

Ingredients:

1 cup apple juice

3 stalks rhubarb (about 1 cup sliced)

1/2 cup sugar

2 Tablespoons cornstarch

1 quart strawberries

2 bananas, peeled and sliced

1 cup plain yogurt

Additional strawberries and optional sour cream, for garnish

Directions:

Slice and wash rhubarb. Stem and clean the berries.

In saucepan, combine sliced rhubarb, apple juice, sugar and cornstarch. Bring to a boil, whisking, and cook for one minute to blend ingredients. Cool.

Pour the cooled mixture into the blender. Add remaining ingredients. Blend for about a minute, until smooth. Pour into glasses or bowls. Serve chilled. If using as soup, serve with croutons or noodles. Garnish with additional sliced berries and dollops of sour cream.

Serves 2 – 4, depending on size of servings.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.

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