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How to clean and store your fresh strawberries during the upcoming season

Recently I saw photographs of a new variety of strawberry that was a cream color. I can’t remember the name of the variety, but I can tell you that to me they just didn’t look right. The person who tasted them shared that they were sweet and juicy.

When local berries are ripe, that is the time to eat them every single way you can imagine. Yes, I know we can buy strawberries year-round and they are red and have a great aroma, but they are white inside and don’t taste like vine-ripened berries.

Some of my favorite ways to enjoy fresh berries are with homemade shortcake, as pie with ice cream and as berries alone. Are you salivating yet? Are you drooling just thinking of a bowl of sliced fresh strawberries?

As I write this, local berries need rain. My advice is that when strawberries are ripe start eating them, and eat them several times a day.

One of the best things about strawberries is that a cup has only about 60 calories; sweet, juicy strawberries are a great addition to your healthy eating. When it comes to food value, strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, with one cup supplying about 150 percent of the U.S. recommended daily allowance for the average adult. You may not think so, but strawberries are also a source of iron. Many Americans, particularly women and children, have diets deficient in this much needed mineral, so it’s good to know that one cup of fresh, whole strawberries provides about 8 percent of the U.S. allowance for iron.

The flavor of the berry is at its best when the berry is at room temperature. Personally, I think the flavor of the berries is best if you eat them while you are picking them; I know there is a food safety issue, but to me the risk is worth it. If you’re picking them at a you-pick establishment, I encourage you to be mindful of how many berries you’re eating while picking. If you eat a lot you might want to pay for an extra quart.

Most of us take the modern strawberry for granted, but it took many centuries and a trip to Europe to produce the strawberry we have today. In the early 18th century, French explorers discovered a plump, red berry being cultivated by the natives 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.

When selecting or picking, remember to choose fully ripened, bright red strawberries. Berries do change color after picking, but their 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 a bright green fresh cap. 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 on a cookie sheet or other shallow container for refrigeration. The cool refrigerator temperature will help keep the berries fresh and bright for several days.

To keep berries at their best, don’t rinse them or remove caps until just before using. Washing removes the natural protective outer layer. The caps protect the strawberry’s nutrients, helping preserve flavor, and texture.

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

There are many ways to remove the caps, you can give the cap a gentle twist or use the point of a sharp paring knife. 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 whole for dipping in chocolate, in fresh pie, sliced, fresh, cooked, flambéed, or any other way.

For excellent publications on strawberries, visit the Purdue Extension on the web and search for “strawberries.”

For more nutrition and healthy eating tips from Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross, subscribe to the Food & Nutrition email newsletter.

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