If you think all strawberries are the same, you might be surprised to learn there are hundreds of varieties
ranging in color, size, sweetness and growing season. Growers choose their preferred variety "either for the quality of the berry or the quantity of the berry," said Tannwen Mount, co-owner of Terhune Orchards
in Princeton, New Jersey. "Wholesalers want ones that grow in quantity" and that can stand up better in transit than some of the more fragile varieties.
While some of the more exotic varieties are becoming more popular with nationwide growers, such as the pale pinkish white pineberry
, local farms will frequently plant a few different varieties to best suit their region.
"Having a local berry, and not a berry that's been picked before it's ripe, makes a difference," Mount said.
Now is the time to stop by your local farmers market or a pick-your-own farm near you and taste a few.
To find the ripest, sweetest strawberries, the same tips apply whether you're picking fresh or assessing baskets of berries at the market. "Look for a berry that is fully red throughout the berry," Mount advised. "If it has a white or green tip, it's not ready."
As with all produce, examine the berries as best you can for soft or bruised spots. Those are signs of a berry that's past its prime, and better for turning into jam than eating fresh.
Jam is just one of the ways to make the most of peak strawberry season. Though it's hard to improve on a perfectly ripe strawberry eaten fresh out of hand, sometimes you want to mix things up a little. Here are some ideas for enhancing your strawberry haul.
When it comes to letting the flavor of perfectly ripe strawberries shine, "I just really love strawberry shortcake," Mount said. With three main components -- strawberries, whipped cream and cakey biscuits -- it's easy to assemble.
"In our farm store, we make fresh biscuits and take the effort to make fresh whipped cream," she said, and the same can be accomplished at home. If you have a favorite biscuit recipe, you're already halfway there. Or try this recipe
made with homemade drop biscuits.
For more ambitious dessert makers, or those who have a nostalgic soft spot for the strawberry shortcake bars from the neighborhood ice cream truck, you can also make strawberry shortcake ice cream sundaes
inspired by the old-school treat.
Jam is a time-tested way of preserving strawberries for enjoyment year-round, and a homemade jar is so much fresher than one off the supermarket shelves. As a bonus, with your own small batches of jam, you can experiment by adding in other flavors.
Because strawberries are low in pectin, they rely on other ingredients that will help the jam thicken and set, instead of remaining runny and loose. Many recipes call for commercial pectin, but sugar and lemon are two natural ingredients that will help the cause as well.
This simple strawberry refrigerator jam
uses only strawberries, sugar and lemon juice, and yields 1 pint of jam. Strawberry balsamic jam
swaps vinegar for lemon's acidity without sacrificing sweetness. And this strawberry lavender jam
recipe uses chia seeds as another natural thickener.
Even simpler than jam and just as versatile, roasted strawberries
are another way to capture the fruit's sweet juiciness and intensify it. The method is the same as roasting vegetables: Toss trimmed strawberries with seasonings and roast them on a parchment-lined rimmed sheet pan at a high temperature.
As with so many strawberry recipes, the seasoning options are adaptable. A sweetener, such as maple syrup, honey or even smoked sugar, helps turn the cooked juice into syrup. A dash of balsamic vinegar or red wine adds brightness. And spices from cinnamon to black pepper to vanilla shift the flavor in various directions.
Swirl roasted strawberries into yogurt bowls, spoon over ice cream or use as a topping on toasted bread with fresh goat cheese or ricotta.
Strawberry drinks and cocktails
When strawberries are in season, ditch the bag of frozen berries and make