May is National Strawberry Month. First bred in Brittany, France, around 1740 from plants harvested in eastern North America, Chile, Argentina, the garden strawberry is known for its fragrance, bright red color, juicy texture, and sweet, sometimes tart taste. Whether eaten fresh or in prepared foods like preserves, juices, pies, ice creams, and milk shakes, it's one of the most popular fruits for young and old alike.
While the month honoring this cheerful little berry may soon be over, the season for picking the best locally produced strawberries is still upon us. Here are five ways to celebrate the harvest.[jump]
1. The local, the organic, and the crop-sprayed-but-cheap: Take your pick You don't need to be a Michael Pollan devotee to know we have more options than ever in food choices. So which fresh strawberries to pick at your local grocery store or co-op? The giant plastic tub of big, fat, cheap, factory-farmed berries? Or the pack of locally grown smaller berries for a dollar more? You can let your conscience be your guide, and at the same time check out our Hot Dish taste test.
2. Search out a good, locally prepared strawberry dish When warmer days finally arrive, hoof it on down to the well-known Minneapolis ice cream shop Sebastian Joe's at Franklin and Hennepin, or at Upton and 44th, for a strawberry ice cream cone. Or a strawberry banana ice cream cone. Or a strawberry rhubarb ice cream cone. Feeling daring? Try their strawberry basil or strawberry black peppercorn sorbet. 3. Strawberries DIY Honor the fruit by whipping up a strawberry dish at home. As the story goes, Native Americans crushed strawberries and mixed them with cornmeal to bake strawberry bread. Early Europeans tasted it and created their own recipe: strawberry shortcake.
- 1 quart strawberries, sliced
- 1/4 cup sugar (for the strawberries)
- 2 1/3 cups Bisquick mix (or for a cheap substitute for 1 cup of Bisquick, mix 1 cup of flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon oil/melted butter)
- 1/2 cup milk
- 3 tablespoons sugar (for the Bisquick)
- 3 tablespoons butter/margarine, melted
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, mix strawberries and 1/4 cup sugar, and set aside.
2. In medium bowl, stir Bisquick mix, milk, 3 tablespoons sugar and butter until soft dough forms. On an ungreased cookie sheet, drop dough by 6 spoonfuls.
3. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Meanwhile, beat whipping cream with electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form.
4. Remove shortcakes from oven. Split the shortcakes in half; fill then top with strawberries and whipped cream.
For an even simpler version, do what my grandma used to do: Bake a white or angel food cake and cover the thing in thawed pre-packed frozen strawberries and canned whipped cream. Easy!
4. Strawberries Uber-DIY Strawberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow in your own yard. According to the University of Minnesota's Extension Office, a hardy cultivar placed in a well-chosen site will produce plenty of fruit for eating fresh, freezing, or creating jam and desserts, while using relatively little space in your garden. So, which cultivar to choose, and where to put it?
Three types of strawberries are readily available to Minnesota gardeners. June-bearing strawberries produce a large, concentrated crop in late spring. "Everbearing" types produce two smaller crops: one in late spring and another in early fall. The newer day-neutral plants are capable of producing fruit throughout most of the growing season. Of the three, June-bearing strawberries generally produce the highest yield.
When choosing a strawberry plant, pay attention to hardiness and season. For example, if you expect a late frost, common for the Twin Cities, choose a cultivar with a midseason or late-harvest period. If you'd like to attempt a cultivar for late spring harvest, be prepared to protect your plant in the event of frost.
For information on recommended cultivars, as well as detailed instructions on planting and care, visit the Extension website.
5. You do the picking, let the other guy do the growing Frost dates, sun exposure, insects ... it's a lot to worry about for a few measly little berries. Why not head out to a local pick-your-own farm for fresh berries: You get to do a little of the work, but the grower has to do all the thinking and planning. If you drive an hour outside the metro in any direction you're likely to stumble across a farm selling fruit and vegetables roadside, but here are just a few spots where you can pick your own strawberries.
Berry Hill Farm Anoka Late June-mid July
Bauer Berry Farm Champlin Mid June-mid July
City Backyard Farming St. Paul
Afton Apple Afton Mid June-mid July
Natura Farms Between Forest Lakes and Marine on St. Croix Mid June-mid July
Pine Tree Apple Orchard White Bear Lake Mid June-early July
Always call ahead for availability.