Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Strawberries Taste Like Strawberries!

Strawberry season has reached its peak, and there's no better time to get ripe, local strawberries from south Louisiana. Gone are the tart or sour light red, green-tinged berries! Away with strawberries with white cores and overly firm outsides! With the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival already one short week behind us, these heart-shaped, tart, deep red fruits are in their prime and being used in cuisine and desserts all over the city. Shortcakes, ice creams, sorbets, gelatos, jellies, daiquiris, cocktails, and sauces are all being created with these berries in mind, and although I'm allergic to large quantities of them, I can't help but eat as much as I possibly can.

Right now, they're hitting that deep violet/blood-red pretty quickly after your initial grocery store purchase, ripening easily into that color from their usual bright ruby red, making them a snack-ready food. The outside, once it gets to that rich, deep color, will be slightly soft to the touch, but the core should remain firmer, which means the center will be slightly more tart than its sweeter outside layer. The little seeds give a subtle crunch and the strawberries just burst with tangy flavor. The scent fills your mouth, traveling up your throat to your nose, before it even gets to your tongue, and the aroma is pleasant, light, and of sunshine in the spring.

The balance between perfectly ripe and overly ripe is subtle. What you should look for in a sweeter berry is a strawberry that is on the verge of achieving the deep, bluey-purple kind of red but hasn't gotten there just yet. An overly ripe strawberry should be avoided for snacking consumption because it's soft, squishy, and has an oddish aftertaste, lacking that fresh burst of perfect strawberries. The center should still have a little white in it, but be mostly red. If the gradient only goes into shades of scarlet, it's a little too ripe. Strawberries that have been sitting for a little too long also tend to have darker seeds. Ripe strawberries have lovely dark yellow seeds sprinkled evenly on the surface of the berry, and underripe ones have brighter yellow seeds. With underripe ones, place them in a container that allows oxygen to flow and they'll be fine in a few days.

Not only are they delicious, but they're totally good for you. Strawberries are high in antioxidants, vitamin C, iron, and are used to improve the circulatory system. They're also recommended for people with joint problems, who struggle with anemia, and have anti-inflammatory properties.

I love strawberries in any form, but during this time of year, sometimes the best way to eat them is fresh and almost plain. The pure strawberry flavor should shine through right now, allowing you to leave your unnatural sugars, used to enhance them the rest of the time, behind. A bit of creme fraiche goes a long way, as does just a spoonful of sugar. No need to mask any tartness now of the fruit -- they're pretty much perfect right now, a sweet and pretty harbinger of the summer yet to come.

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