Make the most out of the season's strawberries

Who can resist stopping to pick up a few punnets of the sweet, bright red fruit? They always look so tempting, and the prices at the moment make them an even more attractive purchase.

We know they’re delicious in smoothies, desserts or even straight from the punnet, but surely there are only so many strawberries we can eat.

Australia’s strawberry growers are appealing for us to get inventive with the fruit to help farms survive a devastating drop in sales. So here are the secrets to a good strawberry, and how to get creative.

Fresh is best
Strawberries are grown in all states of Australia (except the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory) by an estimated 500 growers.

They grow throughout the year, with production in subtropical regions from May to October, and in temperate regions from October to June.

How to choose
“If the leaves on the end of the berry are looking tired, brown or wilted, that typically means the berry isn’t overly fresh,” says Jane Richter, spokesperson for Queensland Strawberries.

“You also want the skin to look firm, consistent colour all over, and a nice and glossy appearance. They’re the key things.”

Read: Things you probably didn’t know about strawberries

Chef Matt Golinski suggests looking for berries with a deep red colour.

“If they’re picked when they’re really ripe, and the redness goes all the way to end, then the sugars have had a chance to really develop in the strawberry,” he says.

If you want the best punnet, look for the strawberries that are almost completely red. If a strawberry has a large area of white at the top, it’s probably been picked a bit early. Strawberries don’t ripen once they’re removed from the vine so keep an eye out.

Always check both sides of the box for any signs of crushing or mould. If mould is present the rotting process has already started and the window of freshness has passed.

Storing strawberries
Fresh strawberries are best eaten quickly, but you can store them for four or five days in the fridge. Don’t wash them as soon as you get them home, unless you’re going to eat them right away. The berries will absorb the water and become mushy if returned to the fridge. Just give them a good rinse when you’re ready to tuck in.

If you want to stock up, you can always freeze them to use in smoothies or homemade ice cream.

Strawberries are one of the easiest and simplest fruits to freeze. They can be frozen whole, halved or quartered.

Bright red, glossy strawberries tend to hold up better after freezing than the ones deep red in colour. These are likely to be overripe and will be mushier when thawed.

Simply rinse the fruits, allow them to air dry for 30 minutes and then space them out on a baking tray so they don’t all stick together.

Place the baking sheet of strawberries in your freezer for around two hours. Then, transfer the frozen berries to resealable freezer bags, making sure to remove as much of the air as possible.

They will keep in the freezer for up to one year, and will defrost in around 60 minutes at room temperature.

Read: Strawberry and Passionfruit Pavs

Get creative
Need some ideas to help with a surplus of strawberries? Why not try strawberry chia seed jam. This easy three-ingredient recipe is a healthy alternative to conventional jam and is very quick to make.

Ingredients

  • 450g strawberries
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds

Method

Add the strawberries and honey to a saucepan over  medium heat. Stir the strawberries until they’ve softened, then use potato masher or fork to completely break them up.

Let the mixture come to a slow boil, stirring continually. Once you see some big bubbles break the surface, add the chia seeds and turn the heat to low. Continue stirring the mixture for about 15 minutes, then remove from the heat.

If you enjoy chunkier jam, simply pour the mixture into a jar and secure with a lid. If you’re looking for a smoother texture, pop it in a blender and pulse a few times.

The mixture may seem too runny while hot. Let it cool to room temperature and then store it in the fridge so the chia seeds can work to firm it up.

Read: Rhubarb and Strawberry Crumble

Strawberry syrup
Another great way to make the most of ripe strawberries is to make a simple strawberry syrup.

You’ll need one cup of caster sugar, one cup of water and two cups of sliced strawberries.

All you need to do is heat the water and sugar in a saucepan until dissolved, add the strawberries and simmer for 20-25 minutes until they break down. Then, strain the syrup and store it in sterilised jars.

You can serve the syrup on pancakes, ice cream or even use it as a cocktail ingredient.

“It’s foolproof, you can’t do it wrong, and once you’ve got it you can use it in heaps of different ways,” Ms Richter says.

Strawberry butter
This may be a new one to many of you, but it’s delicious and couldn’t be easier.

Simply add a tablespoon of strawberry jam, chopped, fresh strawberries and a tablespoon of powdered sugar to a softened block of butter and mix until smooth.

The rich, smooth texture with the added sweetness of fresh strawberries is outstanding. You can add it to your morning toast, spread it on a croissant, or as a big crowd pleaser, use it to top a decadent piece of French toast.

Have you been stocking up on strawberries? What’s your favourite way to eat them? Please share your suggestions in the comments section below.

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Written by Ellie Baxter



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