Strawberry Jubilee

Farm market berries can’t be beat

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RUBY RED: While supermarket-bought strawberries can be sweet, with their often-stark-white center, they’re a far cry from those you can find at the local farmers market, which have a deep red color through and through.

Farmers market season will soon be here with a bounty of local produce harvested at the peak of ripeness. The only way to get a strawberry any closer to ripeness perfection is to pick it yourself. While I love hitting the local farmers market for a variety of different fruits and vegetables, if I could pick only one locally grown variety to purchase, it would hands-down be strawberries every time.

In 2004, I left my job in journalism when I married a farmer. I went to work at his family’s generations-old farm in North Jersey, Demarest Farms, where there were acres of peach and apple orchards, Jersey tomatoes, and more. There was also a roadside farm stand, which sold seasonal local produce and had a salad bar that was famous throughout the area.

When local strawberries were in season, we would slice up bowls of them at a time to include on the salad bar. I still recall standing next to a woman at the salad bar and telling her that she definitely should try the strawberries because they were locally grown and were just unbelievably delicious. Sweet as candy, they were a deep, ruby-red color, through and through. She looked at me and said, “Are they really? Because I was just looking at them and was thinking that they don’t look so good.” I smiled and told her, “That’s what strawberries are supposed to look like; not white inside.”

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With the year-round availability of strawberries in the supermarket, it’s easy to understand how one would think white-centered strawberries are the norm. It’s not that supermarket varieties can’t be sweet and delicious; sure they can. But those varieties were harvested well before they were fully ripened to allow time for transport and distribution. To have strawberries that were picked at the height of ripeness is like eating an entirely different variety.

According to the California Strawberry Commission, the Golden State produces 90% of the strawberries grown in the United States. They’re in season from March through July. Sweet, juicy, and widely available, it’s no wonder strawberries are the most popular fruit eaten throughout the world.

Don’t be fooled by their sweetness — strawberries are packed with vitamins and nutrients and are low in sugar. They’re a good source of fiber, folate, antioxidants, and flavonoids, which may reduce the risks of heart disease, cancer, and cognitive decline. Just eight strawberries a day gives your body 100% of its daily required vitamin C intake. In fact, in recommending a daily serving of eight strawberries, the commission notes, “Clinical research has determined that this recommendation can have some hefty benefits, including potentially improved heart and brain health, reduced risk of some cancers, and better management of Type 2 diabetes.”

Strawberries are incredibly versatile, so it’s easy to take advantage of their health benefits. Whether you crave sweet or savory, they can be enjoyed in everything from smoothies and salads to cakes and even main dishes — unless you’re a purist and would prefer to enjoy them on their own.

When it comes to creatively serving up strawberries, really the only limit is your imagination. After a long day of work on the farm, my husband’s grandparents would be so exhausted that dinner consisted of a big bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with sliced strawberries (or peaches when they were in season). Try spreading some goat cheese on a piece of toast or hard cracker and topping it with sliced strawberries and a drizzle of balsamic glaze (not vinegar). Throw some into a bowl of spinach with grilled chicken, goat cheese, balsamic vinaigrette, and a sprinkle of candied walnuts for a simple yet dressed-up salad on a busy night. Better yet, try some of these old family favorites from the Demarest Farms cookbook. Just be careful … the strawberry smashes will creep up on you, so don’t get carried away. Oh, and they’re just as delightful with fresh, overripe peaches! 

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