The tastiest member of the rose family, the strawberry is the only berry with seeds on the outside. The juicy berries are native to Europe and the Americas and have been a favorite for centuries, able to serve in a wide range of recipes but best-loved in their simplest form: fresh and ripe, right off the vine.
Popular for ages, strawberries have played a starring role in the realm of myth and folklore. An ancient Egyptian tale tells us that eating three hundred strawberries in an hour will turn one into a cat, ancient Romans tell us that strawberries are a medical wonder able to cure everything from bad breath to depression, and the medieval French tell us that strawberries are an aphrodisiac and essential player in wedding night events.
According to legend, strawberries even obliterate the need for Cupid: breaking a “double strawberry” in half and sharing one half with someone of the opposite sex will ensure that the two of you will fall in love with one another.
The strawberries most widely sold in the U.S. are a cultivated hybrid of a Chilean wild strawberry and a North American strawberry, the Virginia strawberry.
Strawberries are available in a variety of forms. Fresh strawberries can be found easily in stores and are also sold frozen, canned and dried to meet various recipe needs.
When it comes to selecting strawberries, you are encouraged to judge based on beauty. The best-tasting berries will be the most attractive: bright red without dark or mushy-looking blemishes. Good strawberries are fragrant, firm, plump, and sport fresh-looking green caps.
While fresh berries can be found almost year-round in U.S. grocery stores, many people will swear by the vast superiority of hand-picked and locally-grown berries. These berries are freshest and have been handled far less than berries sold in stores.
Look for berries at markets or roadside stands, or look for farms that have strawberries available for the picking in late spring and summer. A morning of strawberry-picking makes for a unique family activity with a sweet reward.
- Use strawberries as soon as possible after picking or purchasing; they are best when eaten within 2-3 days.
- Leave the green “caps” on the strawberries until using the berries in order to help maintain freshness and nutritional content.
- Keep fresh strawberries refrigerated until using them. They will keep best if laid out in single layers on paper towels and then placed in a storage container or covered with plastic wrap.
- Wash strawberries just before using them.
- Strawberries can be frozen for up to a year and are best if frozen with sugar. Expect your defrosted strawberries to take on a much softer texture than fresh berries.
- This softness can be minimized by individual quick freezing. Space them out on flat trays and keep them in the coldest part of the freezer. Once they are frozen, you can move them from the trays into storage containers or plastic freezer bags.