There was a time when strawberries were a rare treat – just the wild ones you occasionally came across as you hiked in the woods or the ones sold in the supermarket only during the month of June. Not any more!
Strawberries originally came from the Alpine regions where they have been growing wildly for thousands of years. They have a history that goes back over 2,200 years. The strawberry, a member of the rose family, is unique in that it is the only fruit with seeds on the outside rather than the inside.
There are many explanations about how strawberries got their name. Some believe that the name came from the practice of placing straw around the growing plants for protection and others believe the name originated over 1000 years ago because of the runners which spread outward from the plant. The name may have been derived from the Anglo-Saxon verb to strew (spread) and the fruit came to be known as streabergen, straberry, streberie, straibery, straubery and finally, “STRAWBERRY’ to the English.
Most likely due to the fact that their shape vaguely recalls that of a heart, strawberries have always been considered a symbol of love. According to an ancient legend, strawberries were created out of the tragic love the goddess Venus had for Adonis. There is another famous story about strawberries that occurred during the time of Louis XIV, King of France. At that time, the ladies of the court used strawberries as a symbol of their affection. If a woman wanted to let a man know that she was interested in him, all she had to do was eat strawberries in his presence.
Perhaps this is the reason the French court was the first to try to cultivate strawberries. Until the middle of the XVII century, in fact, strawberries grew exclusively in the wild. The botanists of the Sun King variety were the first to cultivate them. They transplanted wild plants into the royal garden and then crossed the European varieties with South American varieties. The new strawberries were larger, less delicate and easier to grow.
Strawberries were discovered in Virginia by the first Europeans when their ships landed there in 1588. Early settlers in Massachusetts enjoyed eating strawberries grown by local Native Americans who cultivated strawberries as early as 1643. Strawberries have been grown in California since the early 1900’s. Today, over 25,000 acres of strawberries are planted each year in California and the state produces over 80% of the strawberries grown in the United States. On average, each acre produces about 21 tons of strawberries and the state produces one billion pounds of strawberries a year.
Strawberry varieties are one of three types: the June-bearing, the everbearing or the day-neutral. The difference among the types is the time during the growing season that the plants produce fruit. The June-bearing varieties flourish in the spring and produce one crop. Everbearing plants yield fruit several times, usually at the beginning and the end of the growing season. The day-neutral varieties produce an ongoing crop throughout the summer months as long as the weather is not too hot.
Packed with vitamins, fiber and high levels of antioxidants known as polyphenols, strawberries are a sodium-free, fat-free, cholesterol-free, low-calorie food. They are among the top 20 fruits in antioxidant capacity and are a good source of manganese and potassium. Just one serving — about eight strawberries — provides more vitamin C than an orange.
Purchasing and Storing Strawberries
The berries should be a shiny scarlet and blemish free. If the tips are paler, or green, the berries are probably not ripe and could be tasteless. The berries should also look firm. If their color is dull, or if they look dry or soft, they may well be old.
If you’re buying a plastic container of strawberries turn it over to check the berries underneath, as well, because they easily become moldy. As a final check, sniff the strawberries: a strong strawberry aroma should greet you. If it does not, the chances are that the strawberries won’t have much taste.
When you get them home store, them in the refrigerator; they’ll keep a couple of days. Do not wash them until you are ready to use them. Store fresh strawberries in a colander in the refrigerator. This allows the cold air to circulate around them. Do not cover them.
Remove caps (stems/leaves) from strawberries only after washing because the caps keep the water from breaking down the texture and flavor inside the strawberries.
Prepare strawberries for serving by rinsing under a gentle spray of cool water; pat dry with a paper towel.
Remove the green caps (stems) with a light twisting motion or with the point of a paring knife. It’s as easy as a twist of the wrist.
You can also purchase a strawberry de-stemmer/huller at your local kitchen store or online (see photo).
When you have more strawberries than you can eat or when strawberries can be obtained at a reasonable cost, freeze them to eat later or for use in pies and other baked goods.
Fresh Strawberry Measurements:
1 tray or flat of strawberries = 12 baskets or pints.
1 small basket = 1 pint strawberries = 12 large strawberries = 24 medium strawberries = 36 small strawberries.
1 pint = 2 to 2.5 cups sliced (1/4-inch thick slices) strawberries.
1 pint = 1.25 to 1.5 cups pureed (mashed) strawberries.
20-ounce bag frozen whole strawberries = 4 cups whole strawberries = 2.5 cup sliced strawberries = 2.25 cups pureed (mashed) strawberries.
10-ounce package frozen sliced sweetened strawberries = 1.25 cups frozen strawberries in syrup.
Strawberries grew wild in Italy as long ago as 234 B.C. and in Ancient Rome, these red fruits were considered valuable. They believed that the berries alleviated symptoms of melancholy, fainting, all inflammations, fevers, throat infections, kidney stones, halitosis, attacks of gout and diseases of the blood, liver and spleen.
In Italy one of the most famous places for strawberries is Lago di Nemi, a crater lake in the Alban Hills overlooking Rome; the crater walls capture the warmth of the sun and because the crater rim is unbroken the basin is shielded from cool winds. Italians celebrate the season with a festival in June and Nemi’s strawberries do not last long, since they are scooped up by the Romans.
In Italy, fresh strawberries are often served as dessert, not usually with cream but more often sprinkled with sugar, or splashed with lemon juice or sometimes dipped in wine. While we think of strawberries as a sweet course, they can be turned into a savory dish by including them in salads made with an extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.
The traditional Italian method for serving strawberries is with wine: fragole al vino. Hull the strawberries, quarter them lengthwise, sprinkle them with wine, dust them with a little sugar and put them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. The wine of choice for this recipe is usually a red Chianti or an Asti or Prosecco sparkling wine.
Strawberry Goat Cheese Bruschetta
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 12 slices Italian bread
- Olive oil for brushing on bread
- 1 pound strawberries, washed and diced
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, plus more for serving
- 1 cup goat cheese, room temperature
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat vinegar in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Simmer until reduced by about half, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Prepare an indoor or outdoor grill for high heat. Place bread slices on a foil-lined baking sheet and brush both sides with olive oil.
Combine strawberries and basil in a small bowl and set aside.
Grill bread on the preheated grill until browned, about 3 minutes per side.
Spread goat cheese on toasted bread. Add black pepper, salt,and reduced vinegar to the strawberry mixture. Spoon over the goat cheese topped bruschetta. Garnish with additional basil.
Strawberry Italian Ice
- 3/4 cup thawed unsweetened apple juice concentrate
- 1 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
- Fresh mint
In a blender, combine the apple juice concentrate, lemon juice and strawberries; cover and process until blended. Pour into an ungreased 8-inch square dish. Cover and freeze for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until partially set.
Spoon into a large bowl; beat on medium speed for 1-1/2 minutes.
Return to dish; freeze for 2-3 hours or until firm.
Remove from the freezer 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with mint if desired.
- 1 pint (12 oz) strawberries, rinsed, hulled and halved
- 2 tablespoons)granulated sugar
- 15 oz. skim-milk ricotta cheese
- 4 ounces mascarpone cream cheese
- 1 cup powdered (confectioners’) sugar, plus extra for garnish
- 1/4 cup chocolate mini chips
- 1/4 teaspoons almond extract
- 1 box (8) cannoli shells
- Garnish: sliced strawberries
At least 1 day before serving; Line a colander and a medium-size strainer with a sturdy paper towel; set each in a bowl.
Pulse strawberries and granulated sugar in food processor until coarsely chopped. Scrape into colander, top with a paper towel and refrigerate overnight to drain well (this is important).
Put ricotta, cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar in processor; pulse until smooth. Transfer to strainer, cover with a paper towel and refrigerate overnight.
Just before serving: Fold drained berries, mini chocolate chips and almond extract into ricotta mixture. Spoon into a gallon-size ziptop bag. Cut 1⁄2 inch off a corner; pipe filling into cannoli shells and garnish with powdered sugar and extra sliced strawberries..
Italian Strawberry Shortcakes
For the Shortcakes
- 2 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting board or counter
- 1 cup white whole-wheat flour, or whole-wheat pastry flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, (Neufchâtel)
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 3 tablespoons nonfat buttermilk
For the Berry Mixture:
- 4 cups fresh strawberries
- 1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 2 sprigs fresh mint
For the Ricotta Cream:
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
For the Shortcakes
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Whisk cake flour, whole-wheat flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. Cut in butter using two knives or a pastry cutter until the pieces are about the size of peas. Cut in cream cheese until it’s the size of peas. Drizzle oil over the mixture; stir with a fork until just combined (the mixture will be crumbly). Make a well in the center and add egg and buttermilk. Gradually stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a fork until the mixture is evenly moist. Knead the mixture in the bowl two or three times until it holds together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Dust with flour and roll into an 8-by-10-inch rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Cut the edges square using a butter knife. Cut the dough into 12 equal shortcakes. Transfer to a baking sheet.
Bake the shortcakes until puffed and lightly golden, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly.
For the Ricotta Cream
Combine the ricotta cheese, sour cream, honey and lemon juice in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve shortcakes.
For the Berries
While the shortcakes bake, wash and hull (remove the stem) from the strawberries. Slice them lengthwise. Remove the mint leaves from their stem and thinly slice. Add the sugar, balsamic vinegar and mint to the strawberries. Let the mixture stand for at least 20 minutes and up to 2 hours.
To serve: split the shortcakes horizontally. Spoon the berries and juice onto the bottoms, top with the ricotta mixture and replace the shortcake tops. Garnish with more strawberries.
Italian Strawberry Tart
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour or Eagle Brand Ultra Grain flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1 pint strawberries, hulled and cut in half
- powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9 inch springform pan.
Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat the butter and the sugar. Add the eggs and milk. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and stir by hand until just moistened. Do not overmix.
Spread the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Press strawberry halves deeply into the dough in a circular pattern of 2 or 3 rings.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool and dust with powdered sugar.
- Day five – Ashley (mexicoblog2013.wordpress.com)
- California Strawberry Commission Report Highlights Farmers’ Global Leadership in Sustainable Agriculture (prweb.com)
- Easter Chocolate Covered Strawberries [Carrots] (bedifferentactnormal.com)
- VIVA 500: History of Strawberries in Florida (fldpi.wordpress.com)
- Spectacular Seasonal Spring Fruit: Strawberries (nuomega.wordpress.com)