Connecticut grown

Time to Pick the Strawberries (Finally!)

By Diane Wright Hirsch, UConn Extension Educator, Food Safety

Photo: North Carolina Extension

 

NC StrawberriesOne of the best things about June in Connecticut is strawberry season. And we have been waiting a long time for strawberry season this year in Connecticut! Most farmers will tell you that the cold spring has delayed picking as much as 2-3 weeks. Even now, the supply is still gearing up. Get to your farmers’ market early in the day if you want to score a box or two. And be sure to check with your favorite pick-your-own (PYO) operation. Some are just starting up this week.

 

In an article on the University of Illinois Extension web site, Drusilla Banks and Ron Wolford gathered some facts on the history and lore of the strawberry (http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/strawberries/history.html).  Some thoughts to ponder when working on your strawberry patch—or filling your bucket at the local pick-your-own:

  • “Madame Tallien, a prominent figure at the court of the Emperor Napoleon, was famous for bathing in the juice of fresh strawberries. She used 22 pounds per basin, needless to say, she did not bathe daily.
  • The American Indians were already eating strawberries when the Colonists arrived. The crushed berries were mixed with cornmeal and baked into strawberry bread. After trying this bread, Colonists developed their own version of the recipe and Strawberry Shortcake was created.
  • The strawberry was a symbol for Venus, the Goddess of Love, because of its heart shapes and red color.
  • Queen Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII had a strawberry shaped birthmark on her neck, which some claimed proved she was a witch.”

 

Strawberries are ready to harvest when they are a bright shiny red color. If they are greenish or whitish, leave them on the vine.  They will not ripen further after harvesting. It would be a shame to work hard at growing and picking these jewel-like fruits only to have them rot in the fridge or shrivel on the counter. So be sure to treat them well.

 

Harvest safely

If you are lucky enough to have a strawberry patch in your back yard, or if you plan to visit your local PYO, start by washing your hands, then head out to pick the strawberries.  If the PYO operation does not have hand-washing facilities, you can use hand sanitizer as an alternative.

 

Pick berries that are bright red and leave the overripe, mushy or those that are obviously headed in the wrong direction.  If you are planning to make jam or jelly, don’t think that you can get by with shoddy, overripe berries—you might end up with shoddy, over-mushy jam. A good rule to follow when it comes to preserving food at home—whether it is canned tomatoes, frozen green beans or strawberry jam: you will never end up with a product that is of better quality than the produce (tomatoes, green beans, strawberries) that you started out with.

 

Refrigerate the berries as soon as you can after picking.  This will help with shelf life. Store unwashed berries loosely covered with plastic wrap in the coldest part of your refrigerator for two to three days at most. But, do not wash the berries before refrigerating them. If washed, the berries are more likely to get moldy in your refrigerator.  Always wash them before eating, though. To wash, place berries in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Do not allow berries to soak in water—they will lose color, flavor and vitamin C.

 

For more information about safe handling of fresh-picked strawberries, contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271 or www.ladybug.uconn.ed

or the National Center for Home Food Preservation for canning and freezing information at www.uga.edu/nchfp.

Eat locally grown, even in winter….

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, RD

UConn Extension Educator, Food Safety

Photo: Tomatoes at Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford. Credit: Jude Boucher, UConn Extension

tomatoes

After a food-filled holiday season (including, I must confess, raspberries, grown somewhere in South America, in a fruit salad…), it is time that many of us resolve to eat healthier and, perhaps, to attempt to eat more locally grown foods.  It sure can be difficult to live with THAT resolution during winter in Connecticut.

 

Eating seasonally can get a bit tedious over the long hard winter if your supply is limited by either amount or variety.  But, many farmers are now extending their growing seasons with greenhouses, high tunnels and other production methods.  You may find the fruits of their winter labor at a winter farmers’ market near you.  Actually, there are 10 of these markets in the state—one is likely not far from you.  Included are the Fairfield and New Canaan Farmers’ Markets in Fairfield County; the Hartford Market at Billings Forge in Hartford County; CitySeed’s indoor farmers’ market in New Haven, Madison farmer’s market and Guilford farmers’ markets in New Haven County; Stonington Winter Farmers’ Market in New London County; Coventry, Ellington, and Storrs Winter Farmers’ Markets in Tolland County; and Stonington farmers’ market in New London County. Check with the local market near you for hours, days and times.  Some meet only once or twice a month, others continue to be open weekly.

 

Keep in mind that shopping at the farmers’ market in the winter is different than in the summer—or than in a super market in the winter.  If it is an outdoor market, it WILL be cold—or there may be snow on the ground.  Indoors or out, the food choices will be different.  You might find beets, carrots, celeriac/celery root, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, salsify, sweet potatoes, turnips, and winter squash.  If you are not familiar with, let’s say, kohlrabi or rutabaga, type the name into your favorite search engine (or leaf through a good general cookbook) and you will be sure to find a tasty recipe or two.

 

You might also discover Belgian endive, broccoli, broccoli raab/rapini, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chicories, curly endive (frisée), escarole, kale, or radicchio.

 

Hearty leafies like escarole, chicories, endive and radicchio make a great base for a winter salad.  Because they have stronger flavors than the usual romaine or ice berg, they make a great base for other seasonal foods.   Try escarole or arugula with pears and walnuts.  Or try making a cole slaw with red cabbage and shredded kale—it is really delicious with dried cranberries or chunks of fresh apple added.

 

Flavor your winter veggies with leeks, onions and shallots. They can pretty much all be used interchangeably, but there are subtle flavor and pungency differences that may lead the eater to favor one over another. Try them raw, in salads; cooked, in just about any soup, stew, stir fry or casserole; or roasted, alone or mixed with other winter vegetables.

 

While you’re at it, this might be a good time to splurge a little and buy some locally produced meats, poultry or shellfish.  Locally produced animal protein foods may be a bit more expensive, but one taste and you will know that is was worth it.  Most farmers’ markets will have these products as well as local artisanal cheeses and other dairy products.  Give them a try and you will be hooked.

 

Finally, while not grown locally, citrus fruits are certainly a “seasonal” food.  It makes sense to add them to your grocery list at this time of year-even if you know they won’t be found at your local farmers’ market.  First of all they provide vitamin C and other nutrients that might be difficult to find in a limited seasonal diet.  Look for those grown in the US, including Texas, Florida, Arizona and California, if that will make you feel better (local can be defined as you see fit, here!).  Sliced oranges are great in winter salads made of a mixture of radicchio, escarole and endive.  The sweetness of the oranges offsets the bitterness of the greens.  Finish with some balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil.  You can also use dried cherries or cranberries in this salad along with some walnuts or pecans.

 

Sprinkle orange juice over cooked beets or carrots, or use the rind in cranberry bread.  Limes and their juice are often used in recipes that are Indian, Central American or Caribbean in origin.  A bit of lime juice along with a handful of cilantro will make a black bean soup even better.

 

For more information on eating locally and seasonally, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271 for more information.