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.
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Pies have a reputation of being “bad for you”, a diet-killer, a guilty pleasure. While this reputation is somewhat deserved, pie can actually be a healthful choice, no matter what your dietary restrictions. But pie that’s GOOD for you can actually taste good.
General tips for making a health-conscious pie:
Use 1 crust, not 2. The majority of fat and calories comes from the pie crust, so obviously recipes that call for a top crust are more fat- and calorie-laden. Choose pies with no top crust, or substitute the top crust with a healthier alternative, such as a crumb topping.
Add fiber. Substitute half of the flour in the pie crust with wheat flour. You may have a chewier crust, but you’ll also have more fiber. You may need to add more liquid to the recipe to compensate for the added bulk . If you can find whole wheat pastry flour, use it. Be aware that the wheat flour really browns when it cooks, so eyeballing when the crust is done gets really tricky, and even when the crust is perfect, it might be darker than you’re used to and look a little burnt.
Use less fat. The flakiness of your crust is caused by layers of fat particles trapped between layers of flour particles. As long as your fat is distributed well, you should be able to reduce the amount you use and replace it with a low-fat, low-calorie alternative, such as fat-free cream cheese. You can also substitute any crust with an oil crust or a trans-free fat shortening.
Use less sweetener. In addition to substituting sugar for natural sweeteners suitable for baking, you can also just reduce the amount you use, especially in fruit pie fillings. Also, if the recipe calls for pudding mix, choose a sugar-free version. Add an alternative “flavor enhancer” to bring out the sweetness and flavor already in the pie – orange or lemon zest heightens flavor; vanilla or nut extracts enhance “fattening” sweetness and flavors without adding fat, or try adding cinnamon, allspice, cloves, or nutmeg. In chocolate fillings, substituting strong black coffee for any liquids will bring out the chocolate flavors.
How To Thicken Fruit Pie:
When thickening a fruit pie filling, there are several options to consider. Very often flour or cornstarch is used, but in certain instances tapioca, arrowroot and potato starch can also help achieve the desired consistency.
Tapioca starch is preferable for products that will be frozen because it will not break down when thawed. Tapioca is best in blueberry, cherry or peach pies.
Arrowroot, unlike cornstarch, is not broken down by the acid in the fruit you are using, so it is a good choice for fruit with a higher content of acidity such as strawberries or blackberries.
Potato starch is a great alternative because unlike other options, it does not break down, causing your pie to become watery again.
Although these options might result in a better end product, plain old flour also works just fine.
Here are some pie recipes matched with a healthy crust for you to try this summer.
Oil Pie Crust For A Crumb Topped Pie
This crust works very well for a blueberry crumb topped pie so make a double recipe of the oil pie crust.
This recipe makes enough for a single deep dish crust; to make a two-crust pie, double the recipe and remove 1 1/4 cups of the mixture; this will become your top crust. You can add cinnamon and sugar later. After you fill the bottom crust, sprinkle the topping evenly over it. It will bake into a crispy, flavorful crumb crust as the pie bakes.
- 1 1/2 cups (5 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/3 cup (2 3/8 ounces) vegetable oil
- 3 to 4 tablespoons (1 1/2 to 2 ounces) water or milk
Whisk together the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. This can be done right in the pie pan, if you like. Whisk together the oil and water, then pour over the dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until the dough is evenly moistened. Pat the dough across the bottom of the pie pan and up the sides. A flat-bottomed measuring cup can help you make the bottom even. Press the dough up the sides of the pan with your fingers, and flute the top. Fill and bake.
- 2 pints blueberries (1 1/2 pounds)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Reserved 1 ¼ cup pie crust
- 3 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 375° and line a baking sheet with foil.
In a bowl, stir the berries with the sugar, flour and lemon juice, lightly mashing a few berries and por into the prepared pie crust.
Add 3 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar and a 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon to the 1 ¼ reserved pie crust. Mix topping with fingertips to blend and form large crumbs. Sprinkle over the pie filling.
Place pie on prepared baking sheet and bake the pie in the center of the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the bottom crust is golden and the fruit is bubbling. If necessary, cover the edge with foil for the last few minutes of baking. Let the pie cool for at least 4 hours before serving.
Quick And Easy Pie Crust
Makes enough dough for one, deep-dish, 10″ pie
- 1-½ cup unbleached all purpose flour, plus little extra for rolling the dough
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons Spectrum Shortening or other tans-free shortening, pinch off small pieces and chill in the freezer for 15 minutes
- 4 to 6 tablespoons ice cold water
Fit your food processor with a metal blade.
Measure the flour and salt into the processor bowl. Process for 10 seconds to combine.
Scatter small bits of shortening into the processor bowl, evenly over the flour. Process for about 15 seconds, stopping once to scrape down the sides using a rubber spatula, until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.
Measure your cold water into a cup. While the processor is running, slowly pour 4 tablespoons of the cold water into the feed tube. Process for about 30 seconds, or until the dough has formed an elongated ball on one side of the processor bowl. You’ll hear a banging sound as the dough forms into this elongated ball.
Turn off the processor and feel the dough. It should be smooth and it should hold together completely. If it feels dry and is crumbly, you’ll need to turn on the processor and add another tablespoon or two of cold water and process until it holds together and feel smooth and not dry.
Usually, you won’t need to add additional water, but sometimes the protein in the flour is a bit higher than usual and it will require a little more water, or if it is a particularly dry day you might need a bit more water. The more you make pie dough, the more you’ll know the feel that is perfect for a good pie dough.
Remove the dough from the processor, and pat it into a thick disk, about 5″ round. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes to chill and to let the dough rest – this makes it easier to roll out. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and set it on the counter for a few minutes to make it easier to roll.
Sprinkle your counter top lightly with flour. Unwrap the dough, and place it in the center of the lightly floured counter top, then turn it over to coat with flour. Dust your rolling pin with flour, then use it to pat the dough into a round disk about 8″ in diameter. Roll the dough into a 14″ circle, rolling from the center out and using lighter pressure on the ends of the dough.
Drape the dough over the rolling pin to transport the dough over the top of a deep dish pie plate. Gently press the dough into the pie plate, using your fingertips, overlapping the dough over the edges of the pie plate, pressing lightly to patch any breaks in the dough. Fold the overlapping edge of pie dough up, evenly around the entire pie plate. Crimp it with your fingers or a fork.
Proceed with your favorite pie recipe.
If making a double crust, roll out the second crust as described above and fit over filling. Crimp edges together to seal. You can also make a lattice top crust for the pie. See directions below.
This pie crust recipe works very well for a Strawberry Rhubarb Pie.
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
Double the recipe for Quick and Easy Pie Crust
- 2 1/2 tablespoons tapioca
- 4 cups sliced fresh or frozen (not thawed) strawberries , (about 1 1/4 pounds)
- 1 cup sliced fresh or frozen (not thawed) rhubarb
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Pinch of ground nutmeg
- Pinch of salt
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with foil to catch any spills from the pie.
Follow directions above for rolling out the bottom crust.
For a Lattice Top Crust:
Roll the remaining dough between sheets of parchment or wax paper into a 12-inch circle. Peel off the top sheet. Cut the dough into 1-inch strips using a pastry wheel or a knife.
Lift off every other strip and lay them on top of the pie, leaving about a 1-inch gap between strips. Use the shorter strips for the edges and the longer ones for the middle of the pie.
Fold back the first, third and fifth strips of dough to the edge of the pie. Place a shorter strip of dough across the second and fourth strips, about 1 inch from the edge.
Unfold the folded strips over the crosswise strip. Fold back the second and fourth strips over the first crosswise strip.
Place another strip crosswise, about 1 inch from the first. Unfold the strips over the second crosswise strip.
Continue folding back, alternating strips and placing crosswise strip, until the top is covered with woven strips.
Trim any overhanging crust. Crimp the outer edge with a fork.
Brush the dough with egg white; sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar (if using) over just the lattice top, not the outer edge.
Place pie on foil lined baking sheet and bake the pie for 20 minutes. Then rotate the pie 180 degrees and lower the oven temperature to 325°. Continue baking until the crust is golden and the filling is beginning to bubble, 30 to 35 minutes more. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours before serving.
Whole Wheat Pie Crust
one 9-inch pie crust or 10-inch tart shell – double the ingredients for a two crust pie
- ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 5 tablespoon trans-free vegetable shortening
- In a mixing bowl, combine the white and whole wheat flours and the salt. Add the shortening and with a pastry blender cut the fat into the flour. You can also quickly use your fingers to break up the shortening and form a coarse dough. Sprinkle with ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix with a fork until moist dough forms. You’ll use 5 to 6 tablespoons water.
- For a filled crust: Roll the dough into an 1/8-inch-thick round on a floured piece of wax paper or a pastry cloth. Roll the dough onto a rolling pin and then unroll it onto the pie pan. Cut off the excess, leaving an inch to fold under. Crimp the edge with the tines of a fork. Freeze for 10 minutes before baking.
- For a baked crust: Prepare the dough as for a filled crust. Prick the sides and bottom with a fork and bake in a 450ºF oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Double Recipe Whole Wheat Pie Crust
- 6 cups sliced peeled peaches, (6-8 medium, ripe but firm
- 1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
- 2/3 cup sugar, plus 1 teaspoon for sprinkling
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 large egg white, lightly beaten, for brushing
Divide the dough in half and shape into 5-inch-wide disks. Wrap each in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, prepare filling:
Combine filling ingredients in a large bowl; toss well to coat. Let stand for 5 minutes.
To assemble pie:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator; let stand for 5 minutes to warm slightly. Roll one portion between sheets of parchment or wax paper into a 12-inch circle. Peel off the top sheet and invert the dough into a 9-inch pie pan. Peel off the remaining paper. Fit the crust to the pie pan with your fingers. Pour the filling into the crust.
Roll the remaining portion of dough between sheets of parchment or wax paper into another 12-inch circle. Peel off the top sheet of paper and invert the dough onto the fruit. Trim the top crust so it overhangs evenly. Tuck the top crust under the bottom crust, sealing the two together and making a plump edge. Flute the edge with your fingers.
Brush the top with egg white and sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar. Cut 6 steam vents in the top crust.
Place pie on prepared baking sheet and bake the pie on the center rack until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 1 1/2 hours.
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