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It’s Strawberry Season!

Posted: June 13, 2012

I have met very few people in my life that don’t like strawberries, which attests to the popularity of this delicate, delicious fruit. There is nothing better than picking and eating strawberries right from the vine.

As a matter of fact, when picking your own, you have to be careful to focus on picking and not eating! One of my favorite pictures is my older daughter, who was about four or five years old at the time, picking (eating) strawberries with her Pap Pap under the netting in his garden.

Strawberries are the first fruit of the season, and it is estimated we consume about 4.85 lbs. per person of strawberries, both fresh and frozen, each year. The origin of the name comes from the practice of spreading straw to mulch the plants in the field. Others derive it from the Anglo-Saxon verb “to strew”, because of the runners that spread outward from the plant. The current spelling evolved from “straberry”, “streberie”, “straibery”, “straubery” to today’s strawberry.

It is important to understand that like any type of fresh produce, especially produce grown near the ground, strawberries could be contaminated with harmful bacteria, but with careful handling and selection the benefits of this nutritious fruit far outweigh the risks.

This time of year your local farmer’s market will have the best berries, plus many farm stands may have the option to pick your own. The berries should be firm with an even, bright red coloring. If they have more than a touch of green or white around the caps they will not ripen very well once picked. Once you have picked or purchased your strawberries, you want to use them as quickly as possible at their peak of freshness. If you aren’t going to use them immediately, then refrigerate in the same container you purchased them in and they should last two to five days. The time to wash them is when you are ready to eat or prepare them. To wash, place in a clean colander and wash under cool running water. If you have a sink sprayer, use the sprayer. Otherwise, gently toss the berries to be sure all berries are cleaned. Once washed, prepare them as desired. Many people like to pat them dry with a clean paper towel if they plan to store them whole.

These little red berries are an excellent source of vitamin C, folic acid, fiber and other antioxidants. In addition, they contain only about 50 calories per 1 cup serving. While I love to eat them on my cereal in the morning, the number of ways they can be eaten is endless. You can eat them plain or with a little sugar and milk, blend them into a smoothie, with shortcake or angel food cake, as a muffin or in pancakes. Many folks make strawberry pie, jam or jelly or add them into salads. Another favorite is chocolate covered strawberries – in my book you cannot beat that combination!

Strawberries can be preserved by freezing or canning as jam or jelly. There are several methods of freezing berries. Dry pack is a good choice for small strawberries that maintain good quality. The best way is to clean and dry the berries, place on a cookie sheet in a single layer and put in the freezer. Once the berries are frozen “individually” they can be placed in a freezer container. You can also use an unsweetened pack if you are watching your sugar or carbohydrate intake. In this method the berries are frozen in water, unsweetened fruit juice or pectin. The end product will not be as plump a texture or good color as a sugar pack. The other methods are syrup or sugar packs in which the sugar helps to maintain the texture and color of the fruit. Once prepared, the berries should be placed in a freezer container, rigid is best, and packed, leaving the recommended amount of headspace, labeled and dated. Many people make freezer jam, which is another good way to enjoy strawberries throughout the year.

If you need more information on preserving strawberries, you can contact the Somerset Extension Office and ask for the Let’s Preserve booklet on strawberries, or visit the Penn State Food Safety Home Food Preservation.

Uncooked Berry Jelly (freezer jelly)

  • 3 cups unsweetened berry juice, fresh or frozen (strawberry, raspberry, or blackberry)
  • 4 1⁄2 cups sugar
  • 1 box powdered pectin
  • 1⁄2 cup water
  • Yields approx. 6 half-pint jars

Add sugar to 1 1⁄4 cups of berry juice. Stir thoroughly. Add the pectin slowly to the water. Heat almost to boiling, stirring constantly. Pour the pectin mixture into the remaining 1 3⁄4 cups of berry juice. Stir until pectin is completely dissolved. Let the pectin mixture stand for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. Mix the juice mixture with the pectin mixture. Stir until all sugar is dissolved. Pour into freezer containers or canning jars, leaving 1⁄2-inch headspace. Cover with a tight lid. Let stand at room temperature until set (up to 24 hours). Store in refrigerator or freezer.