Strawberries are the first fruit after rhubarb to ripen in spring and early summer. They are the siren call of early-season farmers markets in warmer and temperate climates, harkening people to market before that day's supply runs out. Perfectly ripe strawberries are best eaten out of hand, of course, but they also make great additions to salads and plenty of desserts.
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When Are Strawberries In Season?
Strawberries are the most cultivated berry in the country. They are grown in every state and are available at most farmers markets, if only for a brief time in colder climates. Nothing beats fresh, local berries.
That said, most commercial strawberries in the U.S. are grown in California or Florida, where with the help of new varieties the strawberry growing season runs from January through November. The peak season (some might call it the more natural season) is April through June.
Other areas of the country have shorter growing seasons that range from five months to as short as a few weeks in July in the coldest areas.
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Some 600 strawberry varieties are grown in the U.S. If you find different varieties at your local farmers market, you may be surprised by how varied they are in shape, color and taste. Typically, the smaller the berry, the greater the intensity of flavor (large berries tend to have more water and a slightly diluted flavor).
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How to Choose the Best Strawberries
Choose brightly colored, dry, firm, shiny, plump berries that still have fresh-looking green caps attached. Avoid soft, dull looking, or shriveled berries. Since strawberries do not ripen after being picked, avoid berries that are partly white or otherwise unripe.
It may seem obvious to say, but strawberries should smell like strawberries. Take a whiff before you buy.
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How to Store & Wash Strawberries
Do not wash or hull strawberries until you're ready to use them. Store (preferably in a single layer on a paper towel) in a moisture-proof container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. See more specifics at How to Store Strawberries.
To wash strawberries, place berries in a large colander and rinse gently with cool water. Lay strawberries in a single layer on a clean kitchen towel or layer of paper towels and pat dry. See more at How to Wash Strawberries.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Unless you're eating strawberries out of hand, you need to hull them. Hulling a strawberry means removing the inedible green caps from the fruit. To do this, place the tip of your knife at the base of the cap, insert gently to remove only the soft white part at the base of the stem and slowly turn the strawberry. Once you come full circle, the top will pop right off without sacrificing too much flesh.
You can also use a strawberry huller if you like specialty kitchen gadgets, but a simple paring knife works just fine. For step-by-step directions, see How to Hull Strawberries.
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Get the freshest strawberries possible by growing—or at least picking—them yourself. And if you're going to bother to grow them, you might as well go organic, right? See How to Grow Organic Strawberries for tips.
If you decide to visit and strawberry u-pick, be sure to wear sunscreen, bring vessels for bringing the berries home, and be prepared to freeze a few.
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Freezing your strawberries is easy. Hull them, lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet, freeze them until they're solid (overnight usually does it), transfer them to a resealable plastic storage bag, and keep them frozen until you're ready to use them.
Frozen strawberries will keep up to six months (even a year in a stand-alone freezer with reliable temperature control). See more detailed directions at this Guide to Freezing Strawberries.
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Quick Ways to Serve Strawberries
Perfectly ripe strawberries are best eaten out of hand. If you're willing to put in just a tad more effort, try one of these quick strawberry serving ideas:
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- Pour a bit of heavy cream over strawberries, sprinkle with sugar to taste
- Drizzle strawberries with a good-quality balsamic vinegar
- Dip strawberries in sour cream or plain yogurt and then into a bit of brown sugar
- Combine with other berries, melons, and tropical fruits in a simple fruit salad
- Add strawberries to a simple tossed green salad (think of them as sweeter tomatoes!)
- Slice and sprinkle with sugar for an Easy Strawberry Sauce
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Strawberries are great in tarts and pies, of course. They also add sweetness and flavor to savory dishes.
For a real treat, try Strawberry Ricotta Muffins—tender, sweet, and addictive—or, of course, Strawberry Shortcake. See all my favorite Local Foods Strawberry Recipes here.
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