Food & Drink

Bonnie Aeschliman: Now is the best time to snap up sweet strawberries

Recently, as I wheeled my cart by the fresh fruit in the produce department, I caught a whiff of ripe strawberries. The heady aroma was so compelling. I stopped my cart to check out those berries.

They were bright red, shiny, dewy fresh and very fragrant. I fondly remembered an adage of my mom’s regarding fresh peaches: If it smells like a peach, it will taste like a peach. Adapting her philosophy to berries, I knew those strawberries would be packed with flavor, and I quickly put a couple of quarts in my cart. Although they were not on my grocery list, I knew immediately I could find some very tasty ways to use them.

Strawberries are in season right now, so it is the very best time to enjoy them. But berries are very fragile, and perhaps you have experienced the same thing as this reader.

Q. My family loves fresh strawberries, but recently I have been disappointed when I opened the package. Some were mushy, and some even had mold growing on them. I ended up throwing them out. What do you look for when you purchase berries? And how long do they normally keep?

A. Occasionally a store will get in berries that are not really top-notch and will go ahead and put them out instead of rejecting the order. I generally take a few moments to check the carton of berries before putting them into my cart. I look for a bright shiny color, as a dull deep red color indicates they are overripe. I check the bottom of the carton to see if there are any berries that are molded or if juice has collected. If so, I reject those. Usually you will find the freshest berries near the back of the display, as the older ones are pushed to the front. Strawberries are not good keepers, so plan to use them within a day or two after you purchase them.

Q. I know you should wash fresh fruit. But is there a special way to wash strawberries? Usually I wash them and put them in the refrigerator, but they don’t seem to keep very well.

A. Do not wash the berries until you are ready to use them, as water will speed deterioration. To wash berries, I place them in a bowl of cool water, swish them gently and then lift them out and drain. Remove the caps after they are washed. Otherwise, water will seep into the interior of the berry and dilute the flavor.

Q. I would like to make some chocolate-dipped strawberries. How is that done?

A. If you can find berries with the long stems, they are the most beautiful, but others will work just as well. Wash the berries and dry them well. Place a piece of parchment paper or waxed paper on a baking sheet.

For a pint of strawberries, you will need about 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate. Chop chocolate into very small pieces. Place chocolate in a small metal bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir chocolate until it is melted and smooth. Dip three-fourths of each berry into the chocolate. Hold berry over bowl for a few seconds to allow the excess chocolate to drip off, then place on prepared pan. Chill until chocolate is set. Plan to use them the day they are made.

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