Strawberries are a quintessential spring/summer fruit, leaders of the forthcoming bounty that summertime offers so generously. Rich in vitamin C, manganese, vitamin B9, potassium and antioxidants, it is a favorite of children and adults alike. The health benefits of the humble strawberry include keeping your heart healthy, regulating your blood sugar levels and even helping you prevent cancer due to their ability to fight inflammation.
And here’s the journey of how strawberries, fresh picked from a local farm, can and should make it onto your plate, in various forms and recipes, to help boost your health, your joy and even your life.
Strawberries, you might be surprised to find out, are a member of the rose family, along with apples, cherries, almonds, and other flowering plants. They are grown commercially in many countries but the U.S., Mexico and China are leading the production. The common type that we now consume has been around since the 19th century, but local wild strawberries were eaten in Europe, Asia, North America and the lower half of South America for thousands of years. Interestingly enough, they are still around and can be found in a variety of habitats like open woodlands, meadows, even on sand dunes and beaches.
To grow and harvest them yourself, here is a handy guide that I found on The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Strawberries are relatively easy to grow, can fit within small containers or fill huge garden plots, as you see above at Critzer Family Farm, and they don’t require any specialized equipment. You can basically grow them, if you so wish, on your deck, porch, patio, and even on balconies. They are also, incredibly versatile: from salads, pies, deserts, smoothies, to jams and jellies, they can grace almost any kind of dish. They are also a perennial plant, which means that they come back year after year.
Throughout antiquity and middle ages, strawberries have seen many other uses other than as a food source. The ancient Romans believed that strawberries have great medicinal value in alleviating the symptoms of various maladies like melancholy and kidney stones. Due to their heart shape and red color, they became a symbol for Venus, the Goddess of Love. When looking at churches and cathedrals, we can discover strawberry vines and their fruit carved by stone masons around medieval altars and pillars; during that time period, strawberries were seen as a representation of perfection and righteousness.
The etymology of the word “strawberry” is pretty interesting. The name itself is thought to be derived from either Old English strēawberiġe, which is a compound of streaw (meaning “straw,” and berige, meaning “berry”) or from the Anglo-Saxon verb for “strew” (meaning to spread around). Thus, the word evolved in time through its various forms like streberie, strauberie, straubery, strauberry to finally, “strawberry,” the word which we use today.
When you bring home strawberries, inspect the fruit and discard any that are mushy or moldy, as this tends to spread quickly and can ruin the rest of them. Wash them right before eating, and store them unwashed in the fridge on a paper-towel lined container, for up to a week.
Strawberries are great for long-term preservation. They can be turned into jams and jellies, and they also freeze beautifully.
To freeze them, wash them really well under cool water, hull/cut the green top and discard, pat them dry then place them on a cookie sheet in a freezer for at least 6 hours (or overnight). When the berries are frozen solid, transfer them to a resealable bag and store back in the freezer. This method allows the berry pieces to freeze individually, whereas if you were to place them together from the beginning in a bag, they would freeze in a block. Use this technique to successfully freeze any fruit: grapes, bananas, peaches, etc.
My absolute favorite way to eat them is fresh, with some coconut cream on top and a dash of cinnamon. This method is quick, simple and endlessly satisfying, and can be used with any kind of fruit.
For an extra indulgent and super quick treat, add them to some “homemade” style vanilla ice cream, the richest and creamier of them all in my opinion (I prefer the ones that are made of only a handful of ingredients like fresh cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla beans), with a splash of homemade caramel sauce (here’s a super simple recipe to make in under 10 min) and some homemade chocolate sauce as well. Yumm!
Of course, you can also substitute the ice cream for a dairy free version and try these non-dairy versions of caramel sauce and chocolate sauce. Once you make these sauces and see how simple and easy they are, you will never go back to the store-bought ones. They also last for weeks in the fridge, making them the perfect grab-and-go topping to any dessert. And they compliment strawberries so well!
Unfortunately, strawberries are very high on the list of the “dirty dozen”, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) placing them at no.1, due to high levels of fumigants (poisonous gases injected directly into the ground to sterilize the soil before planting) and pesticides that they are sprayed with. So, eat them whilst they are in season, visit your local farm and stock up on them (freeze and turn them into jams to preserve them), and shop organically grown as much as possible.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our mini excursion into the history of this simple, yet so nutritious and satisfying fruit. Now, I wonder, do you like strawberries? and if so, what are some of your most favorite ways to eat them?
Comment down below and let me know!
p.s: all photos taken by me