May is National Strawberry Month. Is there anything more delightful than a sweet, low-calorie strawberry (4 calories per medium strawberry)?
California and Florida are the principal U.S. strawberry-growing regions: Florida for winter berries, California for spring, summer and fall fruit.
Florida strawberry growers began hand-harvesting the first fruit of the winter strawberry season in late November; and while there are imports, Florida is the major supplier of strawberries in the U.S. from November through early spring.
Today, the strawberry is the leading small fruit crop in the U.S.
But where did the strawberries come from?
They’re originally from Europe, but wild strawberries grow in many locations, including the United States.
The fruit dates back to the Roman Empire, and possibly to the Greeks before that. Fast forward a couple of millennia: The first American species of strawberry was cultivated about 1835.
The strawberry got its name from the common practice of growing the berries under straw to protect them from frost.
A RELATIVE OF THE ROSE
The strawberry is a member of the rose order and family*, which is why the strawberry plant sometimes gives off a rose-like aroma.
A greenish-white fruit (see photos #4 and #5) grows from the flower and eventually ripens into a deep red berry.
Before modern refrigeration, the fruits were picked and consumed in short order; as fresh fruit, in pies, tarts and shortcake.
The berries were preserved as jam, jelly, sauce, strawberry vinegar and strawberry tonic, a medicinal drink.
And to enjoy them year-round, the fruits were dried on flat rocks for several days, to be used throughout the fall and winter in breads, cakes and puddings.
Today, many different varieties of strawberries are cultivated. Each has a specific color, flavor and texture (firm flesh is needed to ship long distances, for example).
The particular climate and soil dictate which variety of strawberry will grow best; and different varieties were bred to thrive in different soils.
Some varieties grow early in the season, some later.
Strawberries must be picked at the peak of ripeness for optimum flavor, as they do not continue to ripen after they’re picked.
The strawberry is the only fruit to carry its seeds on the outside. There are 200 seeds on the average strawberry.
Each of these seeds has the genetic potential to become a new variety of strawberry since no two seeds are the same. This is how plant breeders develop new varieties of strawberries.
Select berries that are firm, fragrant, plump and bright-glossy red.
Their caps should be bright green and fresh looking.
Strawberries don’t ripen after harvest. Use strawberries as soon as possible after purchasing, ideally within two days.
Keep the berries cool. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
The perfect storage temperature for strawberries is 32°F to 36°F.
The best place to store the berries is in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator, in clamshell containers or open plastic bags or paper towels, to maintain high humidity.
HOW TO BUY STRAWBERRIES
Berries taste best at room temperature, so remove them from the refrigerator an hour or two before serving.
To help berries retain flavor, texture and nutrients, avoid washing or removing their caps until ready for use.
Remove the green caps with a light twisting motion or with the point of a paring knife. It’s as easy as a twist of the wrist.
Let drain, then pat dry after washing.
Strawberries are rich in antioxidants. Studies have found that the berries inhibited the development of oral, esophageal and colon cancers.
Strawberries are nutritious.
Eight strawberries contain more vitamin C than one orange, and have 149% of your Daily Value for vitamin C.
Strawberries are low-calorie. A one-cup serving (about 8 to 10 medium-sized berries) contains 45 calories.