Susan Russo, Fit Fare – Americans love strawberries. In fact, according to the California Strawberry Commission, 94% of Americans eat them. That’s not surprising when you consider that California, which produces 88% of the strawberries grown in the United States, produced over 1.8 billion pounds of them in 2003.
Production continues to soar, as does our appetite for these sweet and juicy jewels. Luckily, you can feel free to indulge. A serving (1 cupful) of strawberries contains only 50 calories and is loaded with beneficial antioxidants, vitamin C, fiber, folate, and potassium. There is even evidence that berries can help lower blood pressure.
It is currently peak season for locally grown strawberries throughout most of the country. So, get to your local farmers’ market or u-pick farm while the berries are fresh; they will undoubtedly be tastier than the ones you purchased in the supermarket a few months ago. Why? Because, local berries from smaller farms are “grown for flavor” not “grown for production.” The difference was explained to me by Ted Thacker, of Thacker Berry Farms, in California.
In general, strawberries “grown for production” are picked when they are half ripe and “gassed” (treated with a carbon dioxide solution to prevent spoilage) to maintain a 4-5 day shelf life. This means that people in Kansas can buy strawberries at their supermarket in January, but at the sacrifice of flavor.
However, strawberries “grown for flavor” are “vine-ripened,” and not picked until fully ripe. The result is a red, succulent strawberry. Thacker even suggests looking inside a vine-ripened strawberry, to see what the sugar crystals look like . “These are the berry’s natural sugars, not unlike sugar cane,” he added. Indeed, vine-ripened berries have a shelf life of one day, which means that they should be eaten the day you buy them (or kept refrigerated).
Thacker, who opened a strawberry farm 14 years ago, in Irvine, CA, now has three farms in Oxnard, Santa Maria, and Watsonville, CA, which ensures a continual production of berries from December through October. It also means that berries sold at Thacker Berry Farms’ 18 stands are hand-picked fresh and delivered daily. So, it’s no wonder that they typically sell out each day.
*Look for bright red berries with a shiny exterior and no bruises.
*Make sure the green hull is fresh looking.
*Make sure there are no mold spots.
*Check the bottom of the container. If it’s wet, then the berries have begun to spoil.
*Buy large or small berries; size does not correlate directly to flavor.
*Ask about pesticides and other farming practices, if that is important to you.
*Eat fresh strawberries the day you by them. Otherwise, refrigerate by placing berries in a paper-towel lined plastic container. They should last 4-7 days.
*Keep berries dry with the green hull intact until you are ready to eat 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 bags, and enjoy year-round. The consistency will be softer, so they are best used in smoothies, jams, or sauces.
As Sherrie said, “People are a lot more health-minded today. I see moms buying strawberries for their kids as a treat instead of ice cream. And my favorite part is seeing the kids’ faces just light up when they get their berries. I mean, how cool is that?” She’s right. How cool is that?
- 6-8 cups arugula
- 1 cup sliced strawberries
- 1-1 ½ cup sugar snap peas
- 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- Pinch of grated lemon zest
- ½ Tbsp water
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- A handful of thinly sliced fresh basil
- A handful of fresh torn mint leaves
- For dressing, whisk all of the ingredients in a small bowl.
- The sugar snap peas can be eaten raw or cooked. To cook, simply drop in boiling water for 2 minutes; drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water. This will stop the cooking process and preserve the peas’ bright green color.
- To prepare the salad, divide the arugula, strawberries, and sugar snap peas evenly among four plates. Add dressing; top with fresh basil and mint.