Strawberries: Seasonal, Affordable, and Delicious

Breakfast this morning was a simple pairing of raspberry yogurt and fresh strawberries partnered with several cups of coffee. It was delicious, in large part because the flavor of the strawberries was as good as it gets. After months of eating so-so strawberries macerated in sugar to give them at least a hint of sweetness, I had forgotten how good an in-season strawberry tastes.

June is prime time for strawberries. Supplies are abundant and prices are reasonable, especially if you shop the sales. But “seasonal” and “abundant” isn’t always a guarantee of quality.
As author Janie Hibbler points out in “The Berry Bible” (William Morrow, 2004), “Strawberries need to be perfectly ripe before you pick them. They should be plump and completely red and just starting to soften.” Hibbler advises shoppers to look for “berries that are fully formed, bright red, without bruising or soft spots and with fresh-looking green caps.”

Buying strawberries from a reputable grower at a reliable farmers’ market lessens concerns about quality. But over the years, I’ve also learned to look for the Driscoll’s label on packages of berries, just like I look for the Heinz label on a bottle of catsup.

Driscoll’s, a privately held, family-run grower based in Watsonville, CA, sources berries from producers world-wide. A home address in California isn’t surprising, since, as Lori Longbotham points out in her book “Luscious Berry Desserts” (Chronicle Books, 2006), the vast majority of the commercial crop is grown in California, with the rest coming from small providers scattered throughout the country.

Strawberries should be stored in the refrigerator but eaten at room temperature. One source said they should be stored in their original container, while others suggest taking them out of the supermarket containers as soon as possible, discarding berries that have passed their prime. Rinse and hull the berries when you’re ready to eat them.

Really good strawberries need few-if any- embellishments. Pair them with ice cream, sorbet, or gelato or a combination thereof, and you have a seasonally appropriate dessert with a significant wow factor. To kick the dish up a notch, use the berries to make one of the following recipes.

Sliced Strawberry Topping
Makes about 2 cups
2 pints ripe strawberries, hulled and sliced
¾ to 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, depending on the sweetness of the berries
2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Step 1: Stir together the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a bowl. Let stand for at least 15 minutes to release the berry juices, or refrigerate for up to several hours.
Step 2: Serve at room temperature

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar
Makes about 2 cups
1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Pinch of finely grated lemon zest (optional)
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Stir together the strawberries, sugar, vinegar, and lemon zest and/or pepper, if using, in a bowl. Let sit for 15 minutes to release the berry juices.

Smooth Strawberry Sauce
Makes about 2 cups
2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced
4-6 tablespoons light corn syrup
¼ cup water
2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
Step 1: Cook the strawberries, corn syrup, and water in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until the berries are softened and have formed a sauce. Stir in lemon juice to taste and the salt.
Step 2: Pour through a large fine strainer set over a bowl, pressing hard on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Serve warm, or cool to room temperature, transfer to a glass jar, refrigerate, and serve cold. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. Serve chilled, or gently reheat before serving.

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