It’s my birthday today. No, this is not a desperate cry for attention (although I do like attention on my birthday), it’s to segue into talking about strawberries.
When I was a kid, we always ate the first strawberries of the season on my birthday. I actually can’t remember exactly what we ate them with, but I seem to remember it being with vanilla icecream. Or pavlova. Mum would chop them up, douse them in icing sugar and leave them in her crystal bowl in the fridge to macerate. The icing sugar would draw the juices out of the strawberries and make them sweet and intense of flavour.
These days, thanks to advances in commercial horticulture, local strawberries are usually available from October, but due to the inclement weather we’ve experienced in NZ through the early spring, the season has been late this year. Early season strawberries are generally from Australia, so it’s worth knowing where your strawberries come from if you want to eat locally.
(As an aside, have a look at this site for a quick rundown on what’s in season when.)
When I’m buying them, I try to select smaller fruit. Rightly or wrongly, I find the large fruit to be a bit watery and tasteless. I’ve also grown my own strawberries (when I had a garden to speak of) and they were infinitely superior to commercially grown fruit. Sun ripened is the way to go if you can.
So how good are strawberries for you?
- They’re very low in calories, at only 32 calories per 100g.
- Strawberries have the 4th highest amount of antioxidants for all fruit, according to research conducted in the US (hinted at by their red colouring).
- Strawberries are very high in vitamin C – one serving of strawberries (about 8) provides more vitamin C than an orange. On the downside, vitamin C levels in strawberries diminish rapidly after only 2 days. So freshness is important!
- They’re high in polyphenols. Researchers have found that eating strawberries when eating sugar can reduce the body’s blood sugar response, so maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
- Although strawberries are themselves relatively high in sugar, because they are also high in fibre, they have a low glycaemic load.
- They’re high in manganese, which aids with the absorption of calcium, ensuring healthy bone density
Here’s some other things you should know…
- Strawberries will not ripen any more once they’ve been picked. You’re therefore best to choose the ripest ones you can find.
- They’re not actually a berry, as the seeds are on the outside. They’re a relative of the rose family.
- You’ll need some space to grow them yourself. To feed a person adequately you’d need 6-7 plants. So for a family of four you’d need 24-28 plants. Which is quite a few.
How can we use them?
It’s tempting to just say “open the box, give them a rinse and eat them”, but strawberries are a very versatile fruit, suiting both sweet and savoury dishes:
- Meringues, cream and strawberries are a match made in heaven. Combine them together to make an old fashioned Eaton Mess, or arrange seperately on your prettiest platter and let guests make their own.
- Buy some sweet pre-made pastry cases. Mix together creme fraiche and lemon zest, or buy some ready made custard (I like Dollop Kitchen’s version) spoon into the cases and top with sliced, fresh strawberries. Dust with a little icing sugar before serving
- Make or buy a classic Victoria Sponge cake. Split in half, spread the bottom half with strawberry jam, top with whipped cream and sliced strawberries, before placing the other sponge half on top. Dust with icing sugar and serve.
- For an easy champagne cocktail, mix strawberries with a little Cointreau (or other orange liqueur) and some icing sugar. Leave for 30 minutes to macerate. Place a strawberry with a spoonful of the strawberry juice into the bottom of a champagne glass, then top with chilled champagne.
- Make a protein smoothie with fresh strawberries, a handful of spinach leaves, a few mint leaves, some unsweetened natural yoghurt and a scoop of protein powder. Top with coconut milk and blend until smooth. Add a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup if you need extra sweetness.
- Add to your favourite green tossed salad with a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar and a generous grind of fresh black pepper.
- Go old school with your canapes this Christmas. Cut a fresh strawberry through the middle, leaving the fruit attached at the stem end. Cut small slices of camembert or your favourite washed rind cheese, and secure with a toothpick.
Or try this for a special dessert:
STRAWBERRY AND LEMON TRIFLE
500g fresh strawberries
2 Tbsp Cointreau (or other orange liqueur)
1/4 cup icing sugar
1 x vanilla sponge cake
2 x egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour, mixed to a paste with a little water
1 x lemon, zested
1/4 cup lemon honey
300ml cream extra, whipped until soft peaks form
- Slice strawberries. Mix with icing sugar and Cointreau, set aside for 30 minutes
- To make the custard, heat first portion of cream, milk and vanilla until just below boiling
- Beat together egg yolks and sugar until light in colour and fluffy
- Pour hot cream mixture into eggs, beating as you pour
- Return custard into a clean saucepan, heat slowly over low heat until custard coats the back of a spoon
- Mix in cornflour paste and heat gently until custard thickens
- Stir in lemon zest and lemon honey. Set aside to cool (do not refrigerate)
- Assemble trifle by lining the bottom of a trifle bowl with sponge cake. Tip over berries and their juices and spread evenly to cover. Pour over custard and refrigerate until set.
- Top with whipped cream and extra sliced fresh strawberries and serve. (You could also use the left over egg whites to make mini meringues and top the trifle with these)