General Description: Strawberries (Fragaria genus_) are small red fruits dotted with tiny yellowish achenes, often called seeds. The word “strawberry” was used as early as a.d. 1000 in England. It may derive from the word “strew,” because the mother plant strews or scatters new plants when it sends out runners for propagation, and the fruit itself is strewn among the leaves. The wide distribution of wild strawberries is largely due to birds. The strawberry of the Middle Ages, often portrayed in Gothic art, was the little wood strawberry (_Fragaria vesca), which is still much esteemed for its perfume and flavor.
Native Americans collected the North American wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), which is larger than its wild European counterpart. They would crush the berries and mix them with cornmeal to make strawberry bread. Wild strawberries were so plentiful in America that there was no garden culture of the fruit until about 1770.
The cultivated, large-fruited strawberry originated in Europe in the 18th century when they were bred with species introduced from the New World. In 1780, the first strawberry hybrid, “Hudson,” was developed in the U.S., and commercial strawberry growing began.
The strawberry fruit in the botanical sense is not a berry, but is the greatly enlarged stem end, in which are partially embedded the many true fruits, or achenes. Their flavor is sweet and luscious.
Season: Strawberries are available year-round, with peak supply spring through summer.
Purchase: Choose plump, bright red berries with green, fresh looking caps. The size of the strawberry is not important; all strawberries, large or small, can be sweet and juicy. Look for locally-grown strawberries in June because they will be the sweetest and juiciest.
Avoid: Pass up strawberries with limp or spoiled green caps. Avoid strawberries with white or green areas, mold, excess moisture, or damage.
Storage: Cover and refrigerate without washing for 1 or 2 days, lightly wrapped with plastic. Do not crowd or press; handle gently. Sort and remove any bruised or damaged berries as soon as possible and use in sauces, purées, or jams. To savor fresh-picked strawberries at their best, eat them right away without chilling.
- Swish them around in a bowl of cold water.
- Lift out, shaking off the excess water, and lay out on paper towels to dry.
- Hull strawberries with a small paring knife (cut out the core in a cone shape).
Serving Suggestions: Dip whole strawberries in sour cream, brown sugar, or white sugar and eat raw. Blend lemon-flavored carbonated water, fresh strawberries, lime juice, and crushed ice together, adding sugar to taste to make a strawberry slushie. Add strawberry purée to iced tea.
Flavor Affinities: Almonds, balsamic vinegar, blackberries, blueberries, champagne, custards, heavy cream, kirsch, lemon, melon, sour cream, sugar, walnuts, whipped cream.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com