Strawberries have been considered a tasty and nutritious treat for hundreds of years.
Nutritional experts believe that strawberries are as close as you can get to a perfect fruit. They're low in calories (just 27 per 100 grams) and fat-free, but packed with nutrients, including vitamins and antioxidants that bring numerous health benefits.
Eating just five strawberries gives you more vitamin C than an orange. The vitamin content in strawberries drops quickly, so you need to eat them as soon as you can after they've been picked.
The strawberry got its name from the common practice of growing berries under straw to protect them from winter cold and late spring frosts.
A member of the rose family, the strawberry sometimes gives off a rose-like aroma. Many speculate about how the luscious fruit was discovered. It is known that the strawberry goes as far back as the Romans, and perhaps even the Greeks.
The strawberry plant was originally grown in Northern Europe, but wild species also are found in Russia, Chile and North America. At one time, wild strawberries grew everywhere from Canada to the Carolinas and westward beyond the Appalachian Mountains.
Before modern refrigeration, a day of "strawberring" meant a long day of picking, followed by gorging on delicious strawberry treats -- pies, tarts, shortcake and all the ripe strawberries the family could consume.
Berries that were not eaten were preserved as jam, jelly, sauce, strawberry vinegar and strawberry tonic, a medicinal drink. The remaining berries were dried on flat rocks for several days. These dried berries would be used throughout the fall and winter in breads, cakes, puddings and porridge.
The first American species of strawberry was cultivated in about 1835. Today, the strawberry is the leading small fruit crop in the U.S. It is farmed from Florida to Alaska, with the largest strawberry growing centers located in California and Florida.
When picking or buying packages of strawberries, look for ripe, shiny and brilliantly colored berries without any soft or brown patches. Never buy strawberries that are green or hard, or that look dry, dull or wrinkled.
When buying berries packed in a basket, check the bottom to see if there is a juice stain. This means that the strawberries at the bottom are crushed.
Always dispose of any berries that have signs of mildew or are rotten, as they'll contaminate the rest.
Refrigerating strawberries ruins the flavor, and the strawberry aroma is easily picked up by other foods in the refrigerator. Store the berries in a cool place. Strawberries should be lightly rinsed, not washed, before serving, and eaten as soon as possible.
This recipe for Strawberry Flower Cups is an easy way to serve fresh berries as a dessert or to use as a beautiful decoration. The strawberries are cut to resemble flower petals then stuffed with sweetened cream cheese. It's a cool, delicious way to showcase these beautiful berries!
STRAWBERRY FLOWER CUPS
32 fresh, whole strawberries, large
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons semisweet or milk chocolate, grated
1. Lightly rinse the strawberries and gently place them in a colander to drain. Cut a thin slice from the stem end of each strawberry to create a base so that the berries will stand upright on the flattened end. Place the berries, cut side down, on a cutting board. Carefully cut each berry into 4 wedges, but do not cut through the bottom. Use your finger to gently press down in the center of the berry so that the wedges fan out just slightly, taking care not to break the berries apart. Set the berries aside.
2. Using a small mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and almond extract until light and fluffy. Gently fold-in half of the grated chocolate. Use a teaspoon, a plastic sandwich bag with a small hole cut into the end or a decorating bag with decorative tip to fill the berries with the cream-cheese mixture.
3. Sprinkle the remaining grated chocolate over each berry. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Makes about 32 filled strawberries.
Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children's author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is "The Kitchen Diva's Diabetic Cookbook." Her website is www.divapro.com. To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more, Like Angela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Facebook. Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis.