Picking, choosing and preserving
Most commercially produced strawberries are picked before they're quite ripe, to ensure that they have a longer shelf life. Unfortunately, that has given them a bad name as rarely does one find deliciously, full-ripe strawberries at stores these days. If you can, grow your own (plant in a layered pot if space is limited, or in open ground where they'll get lots of direct sunlight and plenty of compost and water) or buy from a farm stall, even direct from a farm.
In stores, look for bright red strawberries that are nice and firm with fresh looking green tops, and avoid those with white or green around the top, a sign they were picked before ripe. Size is not generally an indication of sweetness, though as with most fruit, smaller is more flavourful.
Strawberries are best eaten as soon as possible, but you can keep them in the fridge for a couple of days, wrapped in paper towelling and placed in a sealable container.
Strawberries are easy to freeze and can be frozen for 8-12 months. Strawberries are best served with a few ice crystals still remaining. If thawed completely they will become mushy.
You can use a dry-sugar or a syrup pack. The dry-sugar packing is especially easy and gives the best flavour and colour for sliced or crushed berries. Halve, slice or crush the berries in a bowl and sprinkle sugar over until covered (use about 1/2 cup sugar per 2 cups of strawberries). Turn until the sugar is dissolved, package and freeze.
For whole frozen berries syrup packing is recommended because it produces a plump, well-shaped berry after thawing. Make a syrup using 1 1/4 cups water to each cup sugar. Dissolve the sugar in either cold or hot water; if hot water is used, be sure to chill the syrup before using. Use about ½ to 1/3 cup of syrup for 500ml container. Place whole or sliced berries in containers and cover with cold syrup. Package and freeze.
Nothing stops you from making your own strawberry jam if you tried all the recipes on this page and still have some left over.
Strawberries can also be dried, the best way is to make into puree, put through a sieve to remove seeds and use to make delicious fruit leathers.
Strawberries in cooking
Strawberries make a handsome garnish for salads, desserts, and fruit punches. To use them as a garnish, clean the berries but don't remove the caps and stems. Here are some of the traditional and novel ways to cook with strawberries:
Some of the classic favourites are rich and crumbly strawberry shortcake, a fresh fruit tart or fruit sundae; strawberry cheesecake; strawberry pavlova and, of course, strawberries and cream.
Strawberries combine well with dry cereal and milk for breakfast, or with syrup over hot waffles or French toast.
Served with custards is another classic combo; try berry trifle; strawberry custard layer and/or strawberry and orange tulip.
They add colour and flavour to salads such as strawberry and avocado salad, strawberry, avocado and chicken salad, or sensational savoury strawberry salad served with crusty brown bread and cold meats.
You can drink your strawberries, too. Everyone loves a real strawberry milkshake and of course the health fundis drink of the decade, smoothies.Some would try them in a cold soup such as strawberry and yoghurt soup, and you can too. For regular drinks try strawberry slush for adults, strawberry sodas for kids, or frozen summer punch for everybody.
Strawberries pair surprisingly well with some cheeses such as blandish ricotta in berry ricotta or rich and creamy mascarpone in decadent strawberries.
Strawberries can go with savouries if you know what you're doing. Drizzle them with balsamic vinegar and grind fresh black pepper over them to bring out their delicious flavour. Then place slices on cream cheese spread on cream crackers for a proper adult treat. Other new inventions include ostrich steak with berry salsa, the sensational deep-fried camembert with strawberry salad and chilli sauce or must-have strawberries in Masala with honeyed cream cheese.
These are just some ways to enjoy your strawberries, but Food24.com has a whopping 269 different recipes using this delicious little red fruit. So click and cook!