By Diane Wright Hirsch, UConn Extension Educator, Food Safety
Photo: North Carolina Extension
One 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.
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.