“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.
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.
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
Freezing strawberries for later
“Fresh strawberries are the best but are a really easy fruit to freeze,” Mount said, and “they’re such a wonderful treat to have in the middle of winter.” She always keeps a few bags in the freezer for her kids’ smoothies and other strawberry cravings.
To freeze fresh strawberries, wipe the strawberries with a damp cloth, or rinse gently and thoroughly pat dry with a cotton towel. Remove the green stems with a paring knife or strawberry huller, then place the berries stem-side down in a single layer on a parchment- or waxed paper-lined baking sheet.
Freeze on the baking sheet for at least four hours until the berries are frozen solid, then transfer to zip-top bags or vacuum seal in portions. Strawberries will keep in the freezer for up to a year, just in time for next spring’s strawberry harvest.
Casey Barber is a food writer, illustrator and photographer; the author of “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” and “Classic Snacks Made From Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats”; and editor of the website Good. Food. Stories.