The Mouth-Watering Magic of Strawberries

Is there anything more delightful than a child’s wide smile…etched in the juice of fresh-from-the-field strawberries? Ripening on the vine by late spring, strawberries are often the first fruit to appear in Northern California and they seem to hold a special allure. Is it the luscious sweetness of these little fruits that makes them so appealing? Or their red, heart-shaped form? Perhaps it’s the distinctive, oh-so-tempting fragrance of a freshly picked berry? Whatever it is, the combination is pure mouth-watering magic. Farmer Mark Johnson says strawberries are always one of the most popular offerings at Johnson U-Pick Farm, his small family operation in Gridley. “We grow blueberries, cherries, tree fruits and lots of vegetables,” says Farmer Mark. “But people really love picking strawberries.”

Delicious and Nutritious

The Walker family loves to sample and prepare some delicious berries for mom. Photos by Violet Carter.

Michelle Harris’s family runs California Heritage Farms and the Harris U-Pick Berry Patch in Fort Jones. As a registered dietitian, Michelle knows strawberries are more than simply delicious. “A half cup of sliced strawberries, or about four big berries, contains three-quarters of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C,” she says. “Strawberries are also high in fiber and folate.” Another bonus? Though sweet as any dessert, that half cup of strawberries has only about 25 calories.

Michelle says summers don’t get overly hot on their farm, located at an elevation of almost 2,800 feet in the foothills of Siskiyou County. Most years, this allows strawberry production to continue through October. Her favorite way to eat them is straight off the vine, but she loves that strawberries are very versatile. “Of course we use strawberries in smoothies and homemade popsicles,” Michelle says. “But I’ll often slice them into a spinach salad for a little sweetness, and many people use them in salsa. We also fill our freezer with berries so we can eat them all year long.”

For successful freezing, place washed/dried berries on a cookie sheet, set them in the freezer for a couple of hours until they are firm and then transfer them into a large freezer bag. This process prevents berries from clumping together as they freeze. 

A Sweet Gift for Mom

Fresh local strawberries begin to arrive just in time for Mother’s Day, and many bakeries make confections featuring this succulent favorite. Melissa Peters, owner of Mim’s Bakery in Chico, says she generally uses strawberries only when they’re in season. She likes to acquire her berries from fruit stands and farmers’ markets. “Our Strawberry Bavarian Cake is a butter sponge cake with strawberries, Bavarian custard filling and a thin layer of chocolate ganache,” Melissa says. “And the Fruit Basket Cake, made with an assortment of berries, is another popular choice.”     

If Mom has a green thumb, consider giving her strawberry plants. Easy to grow and relatively low maintenance, they can be planted in a container or garden bed; some types will produce strawberries the first year. The wandering tendrils and delicate white flowers make pretty ground cover, or can flow from a hanging planter.

Lenora “Lee” Meier is a customer representative at Lassen Canyon Nursery in Redding, which supplies strawberry plants to both commercial farms and home gardeners. For the backyard grower, she suggests a day-neutral variety such as Seascape or Sweet Ann. These plants produce large flavorful berries, and because they are not dependent on day length they’ll produce well into the fall. Though not a retail shop, Lassen Canyon Nursery always tries to accommodate local walk-ins and provides a wealth of information on strawberry gardening. “We also supply our local retail nurseries, so please check with them as well,” Lee says. 

Stuffed Strawberries

Ingredients:

  • 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • Batch of large, firm strawberries

Mix cream cheese and powdered sugar. Wash and dry berries. Remove tops and “core.” Fill strawberry holes with cream cheese mixture, using a pastry piping bag – or simply cut a small hole in the corner of a zip-locked bag.

Kids love this light dessert served as a finger food, and your mom will love it too!

Recipe courtesy of Melissa Peters, Mim’s Bakery     

Berry picking? Don’t forget to bring:

  • Sunscreen.
  • Hat with brim.
  • Shoes rather than sandals. (Bees, mud, and farm equipment may be present.) 
  • Water bottle.
  • Rigid container, unless grower provides flats. (Berries get squashed in a bag.)

*Call the farm to confirm hours of operation and berry availability!

Strawberry Trivia

  • Each strawberry has about 200 seeds.
  • Strawberries belong to the genus Fragaria, and are part of the rose family.
  • California leads the nation in strawberry production, growing about 88 percent of U.S.-produced strawberries.
  • The average American eats about 3.4 pounds of fresh strawberries annually.
Ashley Talmadge
About Ashley Talmadge

​Ashley Talmadge has always shared her home with a variety of companion animals. Currently her family includes two opinionated cats and two aquatic frogs. Her two young sons like to think of themselves as "cat mind readers."

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