The strawberry is a symbol of the promise of spring after a long winter. While midsummer’s lush, plump cherries whisper of sultry nights on the back porch spitting pits into the garden, strawberries speak of girls in bonnets and sunny afternoons by a cold mountain spring. The aroma of sun-warmed strawberries plucked straight from the plant has the power to transport us back to a more innocent time.
Sweet with a hint of bracing tartness, strawberries are America’s favorite berry, according to the Agricultural Marketing Research Center. The U.S. produces more berries than any other country in the world and is also the fourth biggest importer of strawberries (mostly from Mexico). But with that popularity has come a price. Around my house we call the strawberries typically found in a mainstream supermarket “radish berries” because they’re hard, red, and not sweet.
Modern supermarket berries have been bred for characteristics that ensure profitability but not necessarily palatability. These strawberries are the size of a baby’s fist; they’re firm enough to ship nationally, and they’re uniformly red, but the fruit’s delicate aroma and succulent flavor have been sacrificed. They’ve come a long way from the tiny, intensely flavored wild forest berry of their roots. (For the history of how modern strawberries arose from the wild woodland berries of Europe, read Heidi Lewis’s story.)
But truly flavorful strawberries are still out there. They’re lurking in CSA boxes, at your local farmers market, at a nearby U-pick farm, and even in your break room, courtesy of The FruitGuys. (Though not just yet; we wait until strawberries are at their peak of deliciousness, in late spring, before putting them in your boxes.)
Once you get your hands on them, it’s easy to turn strawberries into something delectable. But first, you must store and prepare them. When you bring fresh strawberries home, don’t wash them right away unless you plan on consuming them. Instead, uncrate them and remove any bruised or crushed berries. Leave the green tops on and store them in the refrigerator, loosely covered so that air can circulate. When you’re ready to eat them, wash thoroughly under running water, preferably with a sink sprayer.
Eat ’em straight from the colander, or try one of these easy recipes.
(Recipes by Miriam Wolf, except where noted.)
Ultimate Spring Salad
Strawberries, balsamic vinegar, and black pepper are a classic combination.
½ pint of strawberries (see Cook’s note)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Black pepper to taste
8 cups fresh arugula, washed and dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup chopped, toasted pecans
- Mix the balsamic vinegar, sugar, and a few grinds of black pepper in a medium bowl. Slice half of the strawberries, lengthwise, into quarter-inch slices and add them to the balsamic mixture. Stir to coat all of the berries. Set aside to marinate for 15–20 minutes.
- Place arugula in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. Add the berries in their balsamic mixture. Toss. Sprinkle with toasted pecans and serve immediately.
Serves 4. Prep time, 15 minutes.
Cook’s note: I recommend starting with a full pint of strawberries and eating the leftover ½ pint while the other ½ pint is marinating.
Juicy Strawberry Pie
Adapted from Epicurious
In this pie, half the fruit is cooked into a sauce while the other half remains raw for a fresh-as-spring taste.
1 graham cracker crust, store-bought or homemade
2 cups strawberries, sliced
2½ cups strawberries, halved
½–⅔ cup sugar (depending on the sweetness of the berries)
Pinch of salt
½ cup water, divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
- Prepare graham cracker crust.
- In a heavy, medium-size saucepan, place the 2 cups of sliced strawberries, sugar, salt, ¼ cup water, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- When strawberries begin to break down, mash with the back of a fork.
- Mix cornstarch with remaining ¼ cup of water. Pour into the hot strawberry sauce and stir. Reduce heat and cook for 2 minutes, until the sauce turns clear. Turn off heat and let sauce cool for 5 minutes. Add halved strawberries to sauce. Pour mixture into graham cracker crust. Refrigerate until set (at least 1 hour). Serve with whipped cream, if desired.
Serves 8. Prep time, 20 minutes; cook time, 10 minutes.
Homemade Strawberry Shortcake
Simple food-processor drop biscuits form the foundation for this variation on the classic dessert.
2 pints strawberries
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup butter (1 stick), cut into 8 pieces
1 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
Whipped cream, to serve
- Preheat oven to 400℉ and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Hull and slice strawberries and toss with lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a food processor, pulse flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar until mixed. Add the butter pieces and pulse 5–6 times, until butter is incorporated into the flour mixture. It should look like coarse meal. Add the milk and pulse until the dough clumps together.
- Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the prepared pan.
- Bake 15 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown.
- When biscuits are cool enough to handle, split them in half and place on a plate. Spoon strawberry mixture with its juice over the biscuits. Serve with plenty of whipped cream.
Serves 8. Prep time, 20 minutes; cook time, 15 minutes.
Miriam Wolf is the editor of The FruitGuys Magazine newsletter.