Food & Nutrition Column

Mary Ann Lienhart Cross
County Extension Director
Extension Educator Health Human Sciences
Purdue Extension Elkhart County
574-533-0554, lienhart@purdue.edu

All of the rain should be helping to grow nice juicy strawberries, but too much rain and hot weather can make for a shorter season. I know we now have the luxury of fresh strawberries year round, but to my taste buds there is nothing like fresh local strawberries. To me, there are so many ways to enjoy strawberries. I enjoy fresh and frozen strawberries just about every way that I can think of.  Some of my favorite ways are fresh berries with shortcake or soft lemon cookies, in a beverage, fresh strawberry pie, with ice cream, and of course just berries by themselves. 

When the local berries are ripe, it is time to eat them every way that you can think of. The weather (be it rain or the lack of it) and all the various temperatures affect the strawberries! My advice is when they are ripe to start eating them three times a day and eat them often! One of the best things about strawberries is that a whole cup has only about 60 calories. Sweet, juicy strawberries are a great addition to your healthy eating.

Just think about the flavor of a red, ripe, juicy, and delicious locally grown strawberry. I personally think that the flavor of the berries is best if you eat them while you are picking them. Yes, I know that is a food safety issue but to me the risk is worth it. More than once when I have been picking berries I have eaten so many berries to the point that I have paid for an extra quart. This way I don’t have guilt in eating while I pick them.

Most of us take the modern strawberry for granted, but it took several centuries and a side trip to Europe to produce the strawberry as we know it today. In the early 18th century, French explorers discovered a plump, red berry being cultivated by the Indians of Chile in South America. They brought several plants back to their homeland where in 1714 the Chilean berry was crossed with a wild meadow strawberry discovered a few years earlier in the North American colony of Virginia. The resulting berry was the forerunner of our modern strawberry.

When selecting or picking your strawberries, remember to choose fully ripened, bright red strawberries. The berries do change color after picking them, but the flavor is not the same as plant ripened berries. The berries you choose should have a natural shine, be plump and well rounded, and have a rich red color with bright green fresh looking caps. To insure the highest nutritional value, flavor, and appearance, it is best if you use strawberries as soon as they are picked and/or purchased. If you want to store berries, they will keep best if arranged in a single layer in a shallow container for refrigeration. The cool refrigerator temperature with help keep the berries fresh and bright for several days.

To keep berries at their best do not rinse them or remove the caps until just before using them. Washing removes their natural protective outer layer. The caps protect the strawberries’ nutrients and help preserve flavor and texture.

Remember that strawberries are delicate and require gentle handling. Never remove the caps before rinsing strawberries. To rinse, place berries in a colander or large strainer and rinse with a gentle spray of cool water. The caps prevent water and soil from soaking into the strawberries which can result in a change in texture and can dilute the flavor.

There are many ways to remove the caps. You can give the cap a gentle twist, use the point of a sharp paring knife, or use a straw and poke from the bottom to remove the top. I have a clever little tool for cap removing with a nice ergonomically correct handle and it really works. Pat the strawberries dry with paper towels before serving them to dip in chocolate, bake in a fresh pie, eat fresh, or serve in any other way. 

When it comes to nutritional values, strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C with one cup supplying about 150% of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for the average adult. You would not think of it, but strawberries are also a source of iron. It is good to know that one cup of fresh whole strawberries provides about 8% of the U.S. RDA for iron.