Ahhh. Thank goodness. Strawberry season lands at precisely the right time this year, coinciding with longer, sunnier days and a cautious return to life in this “new normal.” The first of the popular berries to hit the farmers’ market, sweet, small strawberries are a joy—optimism in fruit form.
At the grocery store or market—local and organic in the spring or summer is best—bypass any cartons that are wet or leaking, a surefire sign that moldy berries lurk out of sight. Look for smaller berries that are bright-red and glossy, with no white or green shoulders or brown, limp leaves. Skip soft berries.
When you get them home, never soak them. Store them unwashed in a single layer in the fridge in a paper towel-lined glass or plastic container. Covered and refrigerated, they’ll keep for a week. Hull them (using a gadget to save time) before freezing them.
The best berries are obviously the ones still-warm from the sun or garden, but even decent berries can be made excellent. Here’s how.
1. Macerated Strawberries
There’s almost no dessert easier in the world than macerated berries. Unexpected guests? Kids panicking at the lack of sweets in the house? Just put strawberries in sugar (add balsamic vinegar or red wine, plus lemon zest if you’re feeling fancy). Spoon them over Greek yogurt, plain pound cake, vanilla ice cream or simple panna cotta. Boom: dessert. There’s a reason these standbys surface in strawberry shortcakes: They’re a short cut.
One of the beautiful things about these berries is that they surface right around the time when their best foils do, too. Think: sweet snap peas and fresh cheeses; spring herbs and greens. They’re such a natural match for salad. Pair them with feta, spring greens and watermelon, baby spinach and tarragon, or goat cheese and spinach. Rejoice! It’s spring.
Find us a fruit that pairs equally well with lemon and pineapple, rum and bourbon. (Go ahead; we’ll wait!) Don’t forget about drinks when you’re staring at a bevy of berries. Whether you’re whipping up a smoothie or simply spiking your favorite lemonade recipe with berries, you’re doing the right thing, here.
The truth of the matter is that even your most mediocre baking day can be saved by homemade strawberry jam. Roasting or jamming the berry concentrates its sweetness. Slather it on scones. Pop it into gorgeous cookies like those above. Or just shellac preserves on to good bread with soft butter, and feel like it’s May next February.
5. In Popovers, Breads and Donuts
It’s not that hard to fill popovers with strawberries. Nor is it all that difficult to glaze doughnuts with them. These are things you can do. You can put them into quick bread with lemon and have it ready in less than an hour. Making strawberry ice cream might be intuitive, but don’t forget that you can roast these bad boys, too.
6. In Tarts, Cakes and Pies
Strawberries can go any which way in pies, tarts, crumbles and the like. You can use them to garnish the prettiest pistachio-yogurt tart. Pair them with their seasonal buddy, rhubarb, in a pie like the one pictured here. Transform them into a breakfast cake.
So although you may think of these little beauties as delicate and best eaten straight from the paw (and they are marvelous that way), don’t forget that you can style them any which way you like, whatever your mood.