Strawberry Fields Forever
Strawberries have been grown since the days of ancient Rome but until recently, Ontario strawberries were only available for a short three to four week period in June and July. The reason is simple: “June-bearing," short-day or summer strawberries flower and produce one large crop and that’s all. It makes them perfect for jam making and freezing. Growers can extend the harvest season by planting early, mid-season and later varieties but those strawberries are gone way too soon.
Enter everbearing and day-neutral strawberries. The latter have been making inroads into the market here for the past decade. With a mild fall, you can find day-neutral strawberries at local markets until Canadian Thanksgiving (October 12) or even longer.
Day-neutral strawberries, developed in the 1960s, are a modern cultivar from everbearing plants, which produce two or three crops, and continuously produce strawberries all summer and into the fall. The crops will be smaller but you will have strawberries over a longer period of time. Day-neutral strawberries are heat sensitive so if temperatures go above 32◦C (90◦ F) most varieties stop producing fruit until the weather cools in the fall.
Summer strawberries grown in Ontario are very juicy, softer in texture with lots of intense, sweet berry flavour. Some varieties of day-neutral strawberries are more symmetrical in shape, large and firm. They last longer and keep better in the fridge once you get them home. And they can be very sweet and delicious.
- Tip: The first berries produced by a strawberry plant may be a little tart in flavour especially if the weather has been cool; berries picked after a heavy rainfall may be moist to the point of being wet.
- Tip: Berries left ‘on-the-vine’ longer accumulate sugars, making them juicier and tastier, but do not keep as well.
- Tip: Choose plump, firm, deep-coloured strawberries, with bright green caps and no signs of mould or soft spots. Store in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. Wash and hull strawberries just before using.
- Tip: A 12 oz. basket of strawberries will give you 3-1/2 cups whole strawberries, or 2-1/4 cup sliced strawberries.
Here are some quick recipe ideas to take advantage of the final phase for Ontario strawberries:
Strawberry Vinaigrette: The food processor does the work! Combine 1/2 cup sliced strawberries, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon honey in bowl of food processor. Puree until smooth. Season to taste with fresh ground pepper and salt.
Strawberry Romanoff: An idea from the Ontario Goat Producers. Bring 1 (300 g) log Ontario goat cheese to room temperature. Use electric hand mixer to beat together goat cheese, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup whipping cream and grated orange rind until smooth and fluffy. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. In a bowl, stir together sliced strawberries and a little sugar if desired.
Salted Caramel Dipped Strawberries: a great change from chocolate dipped! Add 1/4 teaspoon salt to 1/2 cup prepared caramel sauce. Dip large strawberries about halfway into the sauce and place on lightly greased wax paper. Let stand 15 minutes. Serve immediately or cover and chill up to 8 hours. Option: use purchased Dulce de leche sauce or make your own with sweetened condensed milk – it’s amazingly simple. Heat the oven to 425°F. Pour the contents of 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate and cover tightly with foil. Set plate in a roasting pan and carefully add enough hot water to reach halfway up the pie plate (you have created a water bath). Bake on a rack in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes. Check and add additional water if necessary then bake 45 minutes more or until milk is thick and brown. Remove pie plate and cool, uncovered. Makes about 1-1/4 cups sauce.
Strawberry Bruschetta: A great addition to a traditional bruschetta topping. Combine sliced strawberries, seeded and chopped tomato, chopped basil, minced shallot, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and a little sugar if desired. Season to taste with fresh ground pepper and salt.