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Monday, June 17, 2013

All about Strawberries

Nothing tastes better than a freshly picked strawberry, sweet and bursting with juice, still warm from the sun. Strawberries are easy to love--they are gorgeous to look at, delicious to eat and very healthy. But growing strawberries is no piece of cake. Their roots can be susceptible to rot and fungus, pests attack them and unpredictable weather patterns can make growing them a risky proposition. The California Strawberry Commission invited me to visit some farms and meet with growers. Here is some of what I learned about strawberries on my trip to the Central Coast.

California is the leader in growing strawberries, over 80% of all fresh and frozen strawberries in the US come from California and the majority come from the Central Coast. Why the Central Coast? The weather conditions with fairly warm sunny days and cool foggy nights are very good for growing strawberries, and the breezes coming off the ocean help keep the pests away. Strawberries are harvested for 9 months of the year on the Central Coast, that's more than just about anywhere else in the world! The peak season is April through June. 

Conventional crops are sprayed up to twice a month to manage pests, but significant research is being done by the California Strawberry Commission and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to reduce fumigants. Growers use bug vacuums and integrated pest management to remove pests safely from plants without chemicals on both organic and conventional crops. 
Plastic strips are embedded in the ground to allow for irrigation and any chemical applications which is easier on the fruit, the environment and the farm workers. Conditions are improving for workers, especially since harmful pesticides like methyl bromide and methyl iodide are no longer being used. The workers who pick strawberries are paid by the hour and by the amount they pick. At one farm, I was told workers make up to $17 per hour. 
After strawberries are picked they are transferred within an hour to a chilling facility where they are labeled indicating where, when and who picked them.  Strawberries are chilled down to 34 degrees, every hour they remain at ambient temperatures translates to a day less of shelf life. 

Nutritionist Mitzi Dulan recommends eating strawberries because they are low in calories, high in Vitamin C and also contain many other antioxidants and phytonutrients such as manganese, folate, iodine and magnesium. A one cup serving has only 45 calories but 3 grams of fiber (perhaps because each berry has 275 seeds?) and 220 grams of potassium.

To best preserve freshness, don't wash strawberries until you are ready to eat them. One other tip? Despite what you may have heard, a redder strawberry is NOT necessarily a sweeter strawberry. Strawberries come in a myriad range of pink, orange red and even white. 

Strawberries are a perfect topping for shortcake or cereal, in spinach salads or whipped up in smoothies. I also like them served with a bowl of Greek yogurt sprinkled with brown sugar. 

Here are some more unusual ways to use strawberries:

* Make salsa with strawberries, onions, cilantro and chiles

* Cut strawberries in half and top with a dollop of ricotta or goat cheese

* Puree strawberries and add them to marinara sauce and serve over spaghetti

* Use strawberries in a savory risotto 

* Toss strawberries with balsamic vinegar, sugar and a pinch or black pepper, gently roast or serve them raw

* Make a shrub by combining strawberries, vinegar and sugar

* Wrap strawberries in prosciutto or serrano ham, secure with a toothpick and serve them as is, or grill and serve

* Layer mozzarella and strawberry slices with basil leaves to make a strawberry Caprese salad

* Top toasted baguette slices with chopped strawberries and chives mixed with olive oil and lemon juice

* Use strawberries with cheese and greens as a topping for flatbread


Additional strawberry recipes and a free strawberry recipe phone app (for iPhone & Android)

Meet the other food bloggers on this trip:

Jodi of Garlic Girl, Mitzi of Nutrition Expert, Jill of The Veggie Queen, Kristianne of My San Francisco Kitchen, Jennifer of Playful Pantry, Laura of Superglue Mom, Jess of Sodium Girl, Ivette of Muy Bueno Cooking, Kankana of Playful Cooking, Jennifer of Savory Simple, Nicole of Pinch My Salt, Claudya of Unknown Mami

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the California Strawberry Commission, I was not paid to write this or any other posts.