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Pick strawberries for your health now - preserve for later

June 11, 2008|By LYNN LITTLE

Fresh strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, with one cup supplying more than the daily requirement. These delectable delights also are low in calories - one cup of fresh berries contains only about 45 calories. Strawberries also provide plenty of fiber (3 grams per cup) and manganese, as well as folate and potassium.

Strawberries are full of phytonutrients - biochemicals that fight cancer, heart disease and macular degeneration - such as lutein, zeaxanthin, ellagic acid and anthocyanins (the pigments that makes strawberries red).

High-quality strawberries are plump and well rounded with a natural shine and rich, red color free from white, green or hard tips. When purchasing strawberries, check to be sure unripe berries are not buried beneath a ripe layer on top, because strawberries do not ripen after being picked. Their caps (hulls) should be bright green and fresh looking. Strawberries without caps should not be purchased as they might be overripe and not of good quality. Avoid strawberries in boxes that are stained, leaking or showing signs of mold.

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For even more health benefits, visit a pick-your-own farm. Good health involves being physically active, and there's more activity involved in berry picking than in simply buying strawberries at a farmers' market or grocery. Plus, it can be a fun family outing.

Fresh strawberries are highly perishable and delicate. If not used immediately, remove berries from their containers right after picking or purchasing, arrange in a single layer in a shallow container; loosely cover and refrigerate. Strawberries also can be stored in a resealable plastic bag in a crisper drawer. Berries should not be left at room temperature more than a few hours, as warm temperatures cause a browning effect in the berries.

Use strawberries within one or two days after picking or purchasing to ensure the best flavor and appearance, as well as the highest nutritional value.

Wash fresh strawberries just before you are ready to use. Washing strawberries removes their natural protective outer layer and, if done before refrigerating, quality will deteriorate rapidly.

Leave caps on during washing to prevent water from soaking into the strawberry, diluting the flavor and changing the texture. Using a colander, wash the berries gently in cool, running water, allowing sand and soil to sink to the bottom, then lift the strawberries out with your fingers. Several washes in clean water might be necessary. Let berries air dry, or gently pat them dry with a paper towel. Remove caps by giving them a gentle twist, or use the point of a sharp paring knife.

Strawberries are luscious simply eaten raw or in shortcake or fruit salad. Quick and fresh ideas for serving strawberries include:

· Serve fresh strawberries with caps still attached for dipping into yogurt or powdered sugar.

· Start the day off right with fresh whole or sliced strawberries atop cereal, pancakes, waffles or French toast.

· Float whole fresh or frozen strawberries in lemonade or other fruit drinks.

· Slightly crush strawberries and alternate them with layers of vanilla ice cream in a parfait glass. Top with whipped cream and a big, perfect strawberry. Substitute vanilla pudding, yogurt or stirred custard for the ice cream.

· Make shortcut shortcake by topping angel food or pound cake with sliced strawberries and a cloud of whipped cream. To lower the fat and calories, hold the whipped cream.

Freezing is the best method of preserving strawberries for meals throughout the year. Canning causes strawberries to fade, float and become mushy. These berries can, however, be made into sweet spreads.

Preserving strawberries is not difficult. Wash and stem berries; slice, crush or leave whole, depending on their intended use in meals. Place berries in a single layer on a baking sheet with a lip or shallow baking pan. Berries will freeze quickly, and should then be transferred to food storage containers - boxes, bags or jars - designed for freezing.

Add sugar or not? The freezing process makes fruit cells expand, and adding a little sugar can actually help protect the fruits. Adding sugar or a light sugar syrup might be preferable if the fruit will be used in uncooked desserts. Adding sugar might not be necessary if the frozen berries will be used in recipes that also contain sugar, such as muffins or a fruit cobbler.

Some additional freezing tips include:

· Strawberries can be frozen whole, sliced or crushed, depending on their intended use in meals.

· Strawberries can be stored in the freezer at zero degrees for eight to 12 months. Be sure to label and date the containers before freezing or storing for long-term use.

· Frozen strawberries can be substituted for fresh berries in recipes; however, the freezing process will make the texture much softer.

· Thawed frozen strawberries are best served with a few ice crystals still remaining. If thawed completely, they will become mushy.

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