How to Pick and Store Fresh Strawberries from Your Garden
By: Julie Day
What better way to celebrate warm spring days and sunshine than strawberry season! Mmm . . . ripe juicy berries still warm from the sun, baby spinach salad with fresh strawberries and walnuts, my Granny Nell’s deep-dish strawberry-rhubarb pie, strawberry shortcake with homemade whipped cream, fluffy hot biscuits spread with strawberry jam, hand-cranked strawberry ice cream on a sunny afternoon . . . it’s hard to get enough!
There are endless ways to enjoy strawberries, although I never can seem to stop eating the fresh berries long enough to cook! Whether you’re visiting the local farmer’s market or a local pick-your-own farm, here are some tips for getting the most out of strawberry season in your area.
Like the first float in an exuberant parade, strawberries kick off berry season with pizzazz. Just about the time the sun gets hot enough to make you wipe your brow, here come strawberries like nature’s most perfect refreshment.
Strawberries begin to ripen in April in the tropical southern areas of the U.S. The season then spreads to the Deep South in May, followed by the middle and northern parts of the country during June. The main strawberry season is only 2-3 weeks long in any one place, so take advantage of it while it lasts.
Choose only ripe berries.
Fast Facts about Strawberries
- There are over 600 varieties of strawberries, each with its own shape, color, and flavor. The most popular varieties produce fruit once per year, but there are also overbearing varieties that continue to produce all summer long.
- Strawberries grow on perennial vines that also make great summer groundcovers.
- At only 50 calories per cup, strawberries are a guilt-free indulgence. Packed with sweetness and flavor, they’re also very high in vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants.
Strawberry Picking and Buying Tips
- Choose Ripe Berries: Look for firm, plump, bright red berries with healthy green caps. Strawberries don’t ripen after they’re picked, so the whitish unripe ones are going to stay that way.
- Pick Early: If you’re picking your own berries, be sure to get out early in the morning. Morning picked berries last longer than those picked in the heat of the day, and if the farm is popular, the fields will be picked clean within a few hours!
- Be Gentle: Strawberries bruise and rot easily. Pick by gently pinching the stems (not by pulling on the berry), and layer them carefully in a shallow basket no more than a few inches deep.
- Act Fast: Strawberries only last a few days, so buy or pick them right before you plan to use them.
- Store Fresh: Store fresh strawberries in a closed container in the fridge, and rinse them gently right before you plan to use them.
- Freeze Leftovers: Strawberries freeze very well. Just rinse them, cut off the tops, slice them if you wish, and store them in an airtight ziplock bag. Be sure to remove as much air as possible from the bag.
- Expand Your Horizons: In addition to freezing, strawberries are quite easy to preserve in jams and pie filling, and they’re a great fruit to learn with. Check out these easy strawberry jam instructions at pickyourown.org.