Winter is blue; spring is Strawberry

Spring is here! You don’t have to go by the calendar or check the weather channel. Instead, go by what’s in the grocery stores.

Top: Simply pipe a mixture of cream cheese

Top: Simply pipe a mixture of cream cheese

Spring is here! You don’t have to go by the calendar or check the weather channel. Instead, go by what’s in the grocery stores.

Many stores are currently having abundant sales on one of spring’s most popular fruits: the strawberry.

To me, the sweet, tart, and juiciness of the fruit definitely awakens the dormant taste buds and bids ‘good riddance’ to the winter blues.

Strawberries are Mother Nature’s little genius fruit. Voicing my kids’ sentiments (not mine), it’s like she messed up with brussels sprouts — making them so nutritious but very yucky. So she tried again by picking up all the vitamins she could and stuffed them into the strawberry.

Compared to a lot of other fruits, the strawberry is tiny but mighty! One serving of strawberries contains 160 per cent of the daily recommended allowance of Vitamin C.

The nutrient impact doesn’t stop there. It is jam packed with other nutrients for assisting your body, such as manganese, dietary fibre, iodine and potassium. Added bonus is that strawberries are very low in calories: one cup of unsweetened strawberries has only 55 calories!

Contrary to the name, strawberries are not a true berry! Botanically, they are called a pseudocarp or ‘false fruit’ because the seeds, about 200 per berry, are on the outside of the fruit instead of being inside the flesh.

Strawberries are often whimsically referred to as the fruit of love. The obvious reasons are the strawberry’s heart-shaped form and its vivid red color. Because of this, a lot of love lore has been attached to this ‘berry.’

In Roman times, it was considered the fruit associated with the goddess Venus and often made offerings of the fruit at her temples. In France, newlywed couples are, by tradition, served soup made from thinned sour cream, powdered sugar and strawberries to ensure their everlasting love. There is also a legend that if someone eats half of a strawberry and feeds the other half to someone else of the opposite sex, they would fall in love with each other in no time.

Strawberries were also used to landscape stately English and French gardens. And while the noblemen were gobbling up the plump berries, American Indians were honouring them in special ceremonies. But their food value was not lost on them. They crushed strawberries with meal in a mortar to make strawberry bread, a precursor to modern day strawberry shortcake.

Although the source of the name “strawberry” is unknown, it may come from the practice of mulching strawberry plants with straw, or the growth of the wild plants amongst matted hay or straw, led to the fruit being so strongly associated with straw.

Another reason could be from the runners that the plant sends or ‘strews’ out. So the name probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon verb for ‘strew’(meaning to spread around) which was streabergen (Strea means ‘strew’ and Bergen for berry or fruit) and thence to streberie, straiberie, strauberie, straubery, strauberry, and finally, ‘strawberry’, the word which we use today.

With the strawberry being a fruit that can be easily cultivated in many places across the world, it is amazing how this fruit has over the years been incorporated into many recipe. Besides making jam, they are a colourful addition to salad greens and pair well with zesty balsamic vinegar or lemon based salad dressing.

Dipped in chocolate or smothered in whipped cream, they are a supreme food ingredient for desserts like cheesecake, strudels , and mousse.

They can be served as a beverage when added to milk shakes, healthy protein smoothies and brewed into wine.

When buying strawberries, choose bright-red, plump berries with a fresh green caps attached. Strawberries should have a potent fragrance. Those without it generally aren’t ripe and strawberries do not ripen after harvesting. Store them, unwashed, in a container with a dry paper towel placed at the bottom. For best flavour, allow strawberries to come to room temperature before serving.

To celebrate spring’s bounty, get inspired with these delicious strawberry recipes.

Strawberry, Mango, and Avocado Salad

1 mango, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cup chopped strawberries

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoon orange juice

Juice of 1/2 lime

pinch cayenne

1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro

1 avocado, pitted and cut into 1-inch cubes

kosher salt

In a medium bowl, whisk together the honey, vinegar, orange juice, lime juice, cayenne, salt, and cilantro. Toss with the strawberries and mango, and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes. When ready to serve, gently mix in the avocado. Season with salt to taste and serve immediately

Strawberry chutney

1 jalapeno, seed and finely minced

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup raspberry vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

2 cups fresh strawberries

Combine first 5 ingredients in a saucepan; bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium, and cook 15 minutes or until slightly thick.

Stir in strawberries.

Reduce heat to low, and simmer 10 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally.

Strawberry Meringue Cup

2 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Dash salt

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup heavy whipping cream

6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced

Place egg white in a mixing bowl; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Add cream of tartar and salt; beat on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, on high until stiff peaks form and sugar is dissolved. Drop into four mounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Shape into 4-in. cups with the back of a spoon. Bake at 225 degrees F for 1-1/2 hours or until set and dry. Turn oven off; leave meringues in oven for 1-1/2 hours. Store in an airtight container.

In a small mixing bowl, beat cream until it begins to thicken. Add confectioners’ sugar; beat until stiff peaks form. Just before serving, spoon a little bit of whipped cream into meringue shells, then add strawberries and top with another dollop of whipped cream.

Strawberry Roses

2 cups cream cheese

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup whipped cream

16 large strawberries, washed and dried well

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons lemon zest (optional)

Beat the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. Fold in the whipped cream. Spoon cheese mixture into a piping bag fitted with a star tip.

Leaving the stem end intact, cut off the tip of each strawberry, and carefully remove the core using a small, thin knife. Stand strawberries upright (stem end down), and slice through the tip toward the stem. Do not cut completely through. Repeat, slicing a total of 4 times. Each strawberry will have 8 sections. Roll the strawberries in the sugar. Gently open each strawberry and fill each with the cheese mixture, using a circular motion. Arrange strawberry roses on a platter, and sprinkle with lemon zest.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at madhubadoni@gmail.com. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com.

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