Alhambra's Sunday Morning Farmer's Market
I've always considered strawberries to be my favorite berry, until the Internet came along and crushed my berry beliefs. Strawberries are not berries, botanically speaking, as their seeds are on the outside of the fruit (berry is used commonly to describe any small edible fruit). Apparently bananas, watermelons and pumpkins are technically true berries. Also, those exterior seeds are technically achenes, smaller fruit containing a tinier seed within (think of them as tiny sunflower seeds). While this will not prevent me from enjoying their amazing flavor, my inner geek continues to shout in the back of my mind (and now yours will too).
Still, it's hard to ignore the iconic deep red of fresh strawberries. Walking around the farmer's market, you'll be hard pressed to deny them (especially when they're usually accompanied by shouts of "free samples!"). I don't think it's necessary to describe the flavor of a strawberry, but I will anyway because I find it fun. Taking that initial bite you get the succulent crunch of a perfectly ripe fruit along with the hundreds of achenes. A hint of tart tangyness followed by an aromatic, decadent sweetness rush your tongue. It's a complex sweetness with multiple levels; highly saccharine yet mellow and concentrated.
When picking strawberries, look for fruit that are firm and glossy, and have healthy green caps. Try to avoid those with areas of overly white/green, which indicate under ripe fruit (strawberries do not ripen after harvesting). Ripe strawberries will also have a more pronounced perfume compared to under ripe. While it's tempting to choose the biggest fruit, it's common that the smaller fruits tend to be more flavorful. Do not wash the strawberries until you are ready to eat, as washing too soon will promote mold and quicker degradation. Go through all the fruit, picking out any berries that are overly soft/mushy. If possible, try to store strawberries in a single layer, to prevent excess pressure on the fruit. Otherwise, you can leave them in their containers, but be sure to line the bottoms with paper towels to absorb moisture. They will typically last 2-3 days in the refrigerator, or longer if you freeze them (Alton Brown had a brief segment about this on Good Eats, here it is transcribed. Scroll down to "Scene 5" to go directly to the instructions).
My earliest memories of strawberries revolved around playing with the green baskets while dipping the bright red fruit into a small dish of sugar (as if the strawberries weren't already sweet enough). The texture of the juicy fruit contrasting with the gritty granulated sugar is still very powerful in my mind. Then I would sneak the sugar (which dissolved into a translucent pink syrup) and, pretending to toss it down the sink, discreetly slurped it down.
While (obviously) I'm perfectly fine with just eating strawberries as is, it's always more fun to play with their flavors in other recipes. To enhance the complex sweetness, try fresh strawberries drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar. Or you can thinly slice them and macerate with sugar, used as a topping for shortcakes, biscuits, or crepes with a dollop of whipped cream. Paired with a creamy blue or goat cheese and toasted pecans in a salad (it doesn't hurt to go a step further and make a strawberry vinaigrette). You can always blend them to have fresh puree on hand for lemonade, cocktails and yogurt. We had a brief heat wave here in SoCal, so a refreshing strawberry frozen yogurt is definitely welcome. As far as savory recipes, you can make a sauce to top pork or lamb chops, or make a strawberry-tomato pasta sauce.
What is your favorite way to eat strawberries? Let us hear about it in the comments or send them our way at [email protected]!