How to Buy & Store Strawberries
By J. E. Davidson
Strawberries are a tasty and fragrant summer treat. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have your own strawberry patch you can buy them at the local grocery store or roadside farm stand. Modern food processing also makes them available all year round, either frozen or canned.
Fresh ripe strawberries will be plump and firm and bright red all the way to the tip. Their caps will be fresh and green and the berries will have a sweet, fragrant aroma. Strawberries that have light colored tips will not be fully ripe. The berries do not ripen once picked and will be lacking
in flavor and sweetness if picked too early. Dark red spots indicate the berries are overripe and
brown caps indicate the berries are beginning to age. Flavor quality is affected by growing
conditions and the time of day the berries are picked. Most people like big strawberries but the
small to medium ones will have the best flavor.
Strawberries are delicate fruit and do not ship well. When buying fresh strawberries from a
grocery store avoid containers that are showing stains; the berries may be crushed, moldy, or
overripe. The most attractive fruit is not necessarily the best tasting since commercial growers
are concerned with growing fruit that is uniform in appearance and ships well, with flavor often
being of lesser consideration.
Canned and frozen strawberries are available in supermarkets all year round. Commercially
frozen or canned strawberries are more reliable than home-frozen berries when used in recipes
where liquid variations could make a difference because the texture and density are more
consistent. Home-frozen strawberries are best used for beverages and sauces.
Buy strawberries from a local farm market in the late spring and early summer months. Locally
grown fruit will be fresher, probably picked that day, and less bruised since it wasn’t subjected to
shipping a long distance.
Strawberries Straight From the Field
Another popular option is to buy strawberries at a pick-your-own strawberry farm during the
three to four week picking season. The farmer will assign you a row to pick. Some will supply
boxes, but you can also bring your own containers from home. Large flat dish pans or cake pans
work well. Don’t pile the berries more than five inches deep to keep the berries on the bottom
from becoming crushed. Pick only the area you are assigned and only pick the ripest berries. As
a courtesy to the farmer any berries that show signs of rot or damage should be removed and
placed between the rows. Rot will quickly spread to other berries. Avoid stepping or kneeling
on the plants. Part the leaves with your hands as you pick; the berries like to hide beneath them!
Strawberries should be picked early in the morning or on cool, cloudy days for the best flavor,
but they can be picked anytime if you are going to use them right away. Children love picking
their own strawberries and most farmers understand that children are tempted by the delicious
berries and won’t mind if they nibble on a few.
Pick strawberries by gently twisting them off at the stem about ˝" above the cap instead of
pulling them off to avoid bruising and place them gently in the container. Once you get them
home, use or freeze them within three days since strawberries are very perishable. Sort them right
away tossing out any that have defects. Store them in the refrigerator loosely covered with
plastic wrap until you use them.
Don’t wash strawberries or remove their caps until you are ready to use them since once they are
cleaned they begin to lose vitamin C quickly. Leave the caps on until they are rinsed so the
centers of the berries don’t fill up with water and make them waterlogged. Rinse them gently in
a colander, a few at a time, and let them dry.
Freeze any berries that you won’t eat in a couple of days. Freezing them with sugar will make a
better quality berry. Frozen strawberries will keep well for several months. You may freeze
them whole, sliced, or pureed. If you use a sugar or syrup pack, or puree, clean the strawberries
first. For freezing them in their unsweetened state, freeze the berries with their caps on and rinse
them just before you use them.
Unsweetened–Berries should be dry before freezing. Lay them in a single layer on a baking pan
and freeze them until solid. Once they are frozen place them in freezer containers or bags. Thaw
them in the refrigerator so they will retain their shape better. Never try to thaw them by running
warm water over the container; that will allow bacteria to grow.
Syrup pack–Make a syrup of sugar and water by combining equal amounts and heating over
medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Let the syrup cool completely. Pack strawberries lightly
into freezer containers and cover them with the syrup leaving ˝" head room. Seal and freeze
Sugar pack–Combine one part sugar to six parts strawberries. Mix well and pack lightly into
freezer containers leaving ˝" headroom. Seal and freeze.
Pureed–Clean berries and press them through a sieve, or puree them in a blender. Add one
teaspoon of lemon juice and four tablespoons of sugar to each pint of puree. Place a piece of
plastic over the top of the puree before sealing to prevent discoloration. Leave ˝" headroom;
seal and freeze.