Let’s face it, strawberries are just plain delicious. I know degrees of desire may vary from person to person, but I think it’s safe to say that for the most part, just about everyone likes a good strawberry and whatever you may decide to put them in. And because there are quite literally limitless options for this cousin of the rose, I’m going to keep it brief, maybe hit a few high points, and possibly let you in on a little trivia that you may not have heard about these ruby-red gems. So read on as I ramble through the strawberry fields…okay, no more puns, I promise!
So first things first; what the heck are strawberries anyway? Are they a fruit? A berry? Well even though we mostly think of them as berries, they are what is technically termed an “aggregate accessory fruit.” So the berry portion of the plant is basically the delivery system for the seeds. Which makes sense, as the seeds are a prominent feature. As confusing as it can sometimes be, it doesn’t stop me from my strawberry indulgences, and it certainly doesn’t stop anyone else either. The first mention of the berry is from Roman times, when it was first heralded for its medicinal properties (more on that later), and was harvested wild by cultures all over the world until around the early eighteenth century, when a variety from Chile and one from Eastern North America were crossed in France – ever the culinary arbiters – to make Fragaria ananassa, or the Garden Strawberry hybrid. These days it is estimated that China is the leading producer of strawberries, coming in at around 2 million tons annually. And there are now lots of varieties in red, white or yellow, with even a rumor running around the internet that scientists had spliced a strawberry with genetic material from a fish that made them (the strawberries) blue! Oh mighty internet, there is no need to mess with the classics.
Our little red friends are also among the very few foods that are both delicious and good for you. And when I say good for you, I mean amazing. Eight average sized strawberries will give you more vitamin C than oranges ever could (sorry Tropicana). They’re also packing plenty of manganese and a truckload of fiber. What does that amount to? How about cardiovascular support, maintaining a healthy blood pressure and HDL cholesterol – that’s the good kind that you actually want to be high. How about keeping a balanced blood sugar level, great news for diabetics. And to top it all off, research has shown that strawberries are a critical part of a diet to help prevent certain types of cancers, including colon, breast and cervical. How about another strawberry?
Now if I were to start getting into all the culinary possibilities of strawberries, we’d both be here a lot longer than we’d want to be. Let’s just say there are very few dishes in which they wouldn’t shine. Jams, jellies, soups, cocktails, salsas and chutneys, ice creams, cakes, pies, sauces or just plain dipped in chocolate…you name it, you could probably put a strawberry in it and it would taste better. And I won’t go into their role in the cosmetic and fragrance industries. But back to the food: if you are looking for a few good recipes, there are, in the words of my mother, more recipes available out there “than you can shake a stick at.” There is a great one from Southern Living for a dinner idea, and a smashing one for the classic Strawberry Pavlova via my home girl Nigella Lawson via The New York TImes. And if you want to keep things simple, here is a great post on strawberry jam from fellow bloggers Kindly Kentucky; shout out to Laura and Sarah! Obviously, how you choose to cook and present your strawberries is entirely up to you, and naturally they pair well with virtually everything from whipped cream to other fruits to chocolate (#allthechocolate). And for those of you with a more adventurous palate, if you’ve never tried strawberries with black pepper…yep, that stuff in the grinder on your table/counter/spice rack. It’s kind of disturbing how good it tastes. Remarkably, as much as I enjoy them. there are a few presentations, like strawberry milk and even strawberry ice cream, that will generally turn down. Don’t particularly know why, but something about that mix of dairy with strawberry just turns me off.
And there’s a few bits and bobs about (nearly) everyone’s favorite berry. Hope you enjoyed the read, and will be taking advantage of the current crops of berries available, either at your local supermarket or farmer’s market. If you have a favorite strawberry dish and/or recipe, feel free to share in the comments below!