Sweet joy. That was the look on three-year-old Gardner Young’s face as he plucked ripe strawberries off the vine and popped them into his mouth. Smacking and chewing gave way to a wide, red grin.
The toddler’s reaction can be repeated on farms around the state as strawberries mark the arrival of fresh produce season in Alabama.
Strawberries are grown commercially throughout Alabama, according to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The harvest season begins in March along the Gulf Coast and ends in early June in north Alabama.
Although available in grocery stores, most Alabama strawberries are marketed directly to consumers through U-pick and roadside retail operations like Backyard Orchards on U.S. Highway 431 north of Eufaula. Gardner’s mother, Cassie Young, and her sister, Allie Corcoran, own Backyard Orchards.
“The most rewarding thing about strawberries is seeing the faces of our customers,” Corcoran said. “Or, it might be when they tell you they never knew strawberries could taste so good. It’s great to see customers realize how much better fresh strawberries really are.”
The Extension System offers the following tips for buying, serving and preserving strawberries.
Look for a full, solid red color when selecting ripe strawberries. The caps should be bright green and attached. The berries should be dry and free of dirt and decay spots.
Strawberries are highly perishable. Berries will lose quality rapidly when left at warm temperatures. Gently pour unwashed and uncapped berries into a shallow tray and refrigerate. When ready for use, wash berries a few at a time in cold water, lifting them gently out of the water with your fingers. Drain the berries; then uncap them.
One cup of strawberries provides the average daily requirement of vitamin C most healthy
people need. They also contain small amounts of vitamin A, calcium, iron, riboflavin and niacin. One cup of fresh strawberries has only 55 calories.
Strawberries can be frozen whole, sliced, mashed or pureed, depending on plans for later use.
Strawberries packed in dry moisture-vapor-proof containers keep a shorter length of time than those packed in sugar and syrup. However, if sugar isn’t an option, dry packing can prolong strawberry season. If unsweetened strawberries are frozen, no-calorie sweetener can be added when the berries are served.
To preserve the color and flavor, pack strawberries with sugar. Sprinkle 3/4-cup sugar over each quart of berries. Toss berries until sugar is dissolved and juice forms. Pack into freezer containers.
To preserve the texture and shape, pack strawberries in 40 percent sugar syrup (3 cups sugar to 4 cups water). Add 1/2 teaspoon ascorbic acid to each quart of syrup to prevent darkening. Cool the syrup before pouring it over the fruit. Berries packed in sugar or syrup will keep 8 to 12 months.
For a list of roadside stands and U-pick farms in Alabama, go to BuyLocalAlabama.com. Or click here for some sweet strawberry recipes.