Strawberry season is here

Published 9:48 am Thursday, June 23, 2011

Column: Notes from the Garden, by Verlys Huntley

What can make our mouth water more than thinking about those freshly picked, luscious, juicy strawberries?

And when it comes to flavor, those large store-bought berries are nowhere close to locally-grown berries.

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You need to remember growers who ship their berries are mostly concerned about the ability of those berries to stand up to the lengthy shipping and storage that is required, and want a berry that still has eye appeal. Flavor is of much less importance. These growers are also much more apt to have used more herbicides and pesticides.

Verlys Huntley

There are three primary types of strawberries. The June bearing produce a crop for two to three weeks, usually starting in this area about the second week of June. Because of our late spring this year, many growers are finding the berries are running about two weeks behind normal, and many growers are just now getting into their picking season.

Everbearing strawberries produce three periods of fruit — spring, summer and fall. They produce few runners and will not spread out as June berries do.

The newer day neutral strawberries produce throughout the growing season, and also produce few runners.

Everbearing and day neutral may be good options for those people who have limited space, and want to plant in terraced beds, barrels, pyramids or use them as an edging plant. There is a lot of good information on the website:

Strawberry facts: Strawberries are not classified by botanists as a true berry, inasmuch as true berries have their seeds inside. On average, there are 200 seeds on each strawberry. Strawberries are the only fruit with their seeds on the outside. Strawberries belong to the genus Fragraria in the rose family (meaning fragrant). There are several theories of how they got the name strawberry. One is that the berries are strewn around on the plants, thus strewn berry, later strawberry. There is also a legend that 19th century English children picked the fruit and strung them on grass straws and sold them as straws of berries. Another theory is that even in ancient culture, berries were mulched with straw around the plant — thus strawberry.

The flavor of strawberries is influenced by weather, the variety and ripeness, with the smaller, later-produced berries frequently being sweeter and more flavorful.

Strawberries are very high in Vitamin C. Eight medium size berries will give you 140 percent of your recommended daily value of Vitamin C. They also are a good source of folic acid, potassium and fiber. They are fat free and low in calories, with one cup of unsweetened berries only 55 calories.

One quart of strawberries equals about 1 1/4 pounds and when crushed will equal about one pint. They are best stored only for two or three days, in shallow containers in the refrigerator unwashed. When ready to use them, you take the green caps off, and wash them. If you have more than you can use in a few days, you can freeze them. If you freeze them for a short period of time on a cookie sheet, you can then pour these frozen berries into containers and they will retain their shape better when using them later.

Strawberry muffins

2-1/2 cups flour

1/2 cups sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1-1/2 cups buttermilk

1/3 cup melted butter

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 tsp. vanilla

1 pint fresh strawberries, cleaned and chopped

Additional sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray muffin tins, or use paper liners. In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and stir well. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, butter, eggs and vanilla. Make a well in center of dry ingredients, and pour in liquid ingredients and chopped strawberries. Fold gently just until moist. Do not over-mix. Put into 12 muffin cups. Sprinkle tops with sugar. Bake 20 to 25 minutes. You can substitute sour milk for buttermilk by adding l Tbsp. vinegar to each cup of milk.

Garden and market notes

Market produce now includes asparagus, rhubarb, radishes, lettuce, spinach, kohlrabi, broccoli, edible pod and shell peas, green onions and strawberries. New potatoes and green beans should be coming before long, with early raspberries not too far away. Those of you gardeners who have vine crops need to be watching for cucumber beetles, as they are here and doing their damage. If you have asparagus, you can keep harvesting that at least until July l, unless the spears are getting pretty spindly. After that, you need to let the top ferns grow out to get enough root strength for a good crop the following year. Rhubarb can be harvested for a few more weeks, and if taking only a few stalks from each plant, you may be able to harvest some even later.

The farmers market is getting busier each week now. Meals are served from 4 to 6 p.m. each Wednesday by non-profit organizations. On June 22, the Freeborn County Historical Museum served, and music was provided by Orville and Irene Goskeson. Remember to sign up for the free basket giveaway of items donated by our vendors each Wednesday. And if you need a ride to the market on Wednesday, call Joann at Ride Services 379-1111 to make a connection. Thanks to the Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea for providing this great service.

Don’t forget that the market is also open each Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to noon. The coffee pot and treats are always out on Saturday, and more and more people are enjoying some friendly conversation and treats while sitting at the picnic tables. Each time you come to the market, look for the latest recipe cards we have out.

We also now have a wireless scanner and can take SNAP and EBT benefit cards as well as major debit and credit cards. Blue Cross will be providing matching funds to make SNAP and EBT benefits get more for you when using them at the farmers market. Not only can you buy produce, but also baked goods, jams, jellies, honey, eggs, meat and pretty much everything edible, including plants that will grow into something edible. Inquire about more details at our information booth with the bright red awning. See you all at the market!

Verlys Huntley is a master gardener and the president of the Albert Lea Farmers Market.