Strawberries are the first fruit to ripen in the spring. The strawberry, a member of the lovely rose family, is unique in that it is the only fruit with seeds on the outside rather than the inside. Along with its heart shape, these outer seeds make strawberries an instantly recognizable fruit. On average, there are 200 seeds in a strawberry called achenes. Native forms of strawberries adapt to various climates and are indigenous to every major continent except Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Woodland strawberries, native berries, were very small and often bitter, so strawberries were not that popular a fruit like we know it. It was not until the 18th century, when coincidence created the modern strawberry. In 1714, a French engineer was sent to Chile and Peru to monitor Spanish activities after the conquestadores invaded in these countries and settled into administrating. He “discovered” a native strawberry that was much larger than those grown in Europe. He brought many samples back to French botanists to plant. These plants did not originally flourish until a natural crossbreeding occurred between this species and a North American strawberry variety that was planted in a nearby field. The result was a hybrid strawberry that was plump and large, juicy and sweet, and one that quickly grew in popularity in Europe. It is the ancestor of our hybrids today.
Selecting Commercial Berries at the Grocery
Look for bright red berries with fresh green caps on. When you remove the caps you tear cells in the berries, activating ascorbic acid oxidase, an enzyme that destroys Vitamin C. Visually check each package, making sure there are no signs of mold growth. If one berry is molded, mold spores will have traveled throughout the entire package. This is new info for me.
When purchasing strawberries by the pound, one-and-a-half pounds equal one quart. This will yield about four cups of sliced strawberries.
According to the Environmental Working Group’s 2010 report “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides,” strawberries are among the 12 foods on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found. Around 200 species of pests are known to attack strawberries both directly and indirectly and a host of diseases. Therefore, individuals sensitive to pesticide-associated health risks may want to avoid consumption of strawberries unless they are grown organically.
Handling & Storage
Like all berries, strawberries are very perishable, so great care should be taken in their handling and storage. Use strawberries as soon after harvesting (in case you do a pick your own or grow them in your garden) or purchasing as possible. Refrigerator storage does not improve the quality of fresh strawberries.
Strawberries are very heat sensitive and warm temperatures cause a browning effect in strawberries. This is why often strawberry recipes use the berries raw instead of cooking like other fruits. Make sure not to leave strawberries at room temperature or exposed to sunlight for too long, as this will cause them to spoil. Berries should not be left at room temperature for more than a few hours.
Before storing in the refrigerator, remove any strawberries that are damaged so that they will not contaminate others. Replace unwashed and unhulled berries in their original container or spread them out on a plate covered with a paper towel, then cover with plastic wrap. Store unwashed berries loosely covered with plastic wrap in the coldest part of your refrigerator for two to three days at most. Do not wash berries until ready to use. Strawberries will keep fresh in the refrigerator for one or two days.
To wash, place berries in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Do not allow berries to soak in water as they will lose color and flavor. After washing, remove the green cap with a plastic-tipped vegetable peeler or paring knife without removing any of the fruit.
To freeze strawberries, first gently wash them and pat them dry. You can either remove the cap and stem or leave them intact, depending upon what you will do with them once they are thawed. Arrange them in a single layer on a flat pan or cookie sheet and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer the berries to a heavy plastic bag and return them to the freezer where they will keep for up to one year. Adding a bit of lemon juice to the berries will help to preserve their color. While strawberries can be frozen whole, cut or crushed, they will retain a higher level of their vitamin C content if left whole.