Farmer's Market | June Edition
IT'S ALREADY MID-JUNE, AND IMAGINE OUR SUPREME DELIGHT WHEN WE DISCOVERED AT THE MARKET THIS WEEK that strawberries are finally in season. Perhaps in your corner they have been available for weeks, but up here they are just coming available now. Locally grown strawberries are unmistakable. Unlike the grocery variety that are large, uniform, shiny and firm, local berries vary in size. Their irregular contour is characterized by deep red flesh, so soft and juicy they have to be handled with utmost care to prevent bruising. They are smaller, typically, and the taste fills your mouth instantly... a tidal wave of flavour.
While in June there starts to be more and more choice in produce available, and we'll include a list (scroll below), but strawberries thrill us to such an extent that we wanted to dedicate a whole feature to them. The year-long availablity of strawberries, as well as the pale red and white flesh of the berries in winter allude that there is more to know so we wanted to dig in. What follows is a short of list of interesting facts about this most popular berry to help you get the most out of strawberry season.
Wild strawberries were prolific throughout North America. They were quickly domesticated by colonists; Native American tribes relied on them heavily—the first berry to ripen, they held ceremonial meals as a rite of spring. Some dried them and consumed them in winter to ward off sickness (hmmm... what a great idea!).
The transition of many wild foods into our regular diet was often accompanied by heavy hybridization, breeders carefully selecting desirable qualities and seeminly endlessly fiddling with varietals. Within the US, there were actually two wild species, one from the west coat and one from the east, the eastern one being smaller, more flavourful, and more nutritional. A natural hybrid of these two was born in a cultivated garden in the mid-1700s. It was a happy accident and this berry became the ancestor of most domesticated strawberries grown around the world. However, eventually the demands of the growing industry outgrew these old-fashioned varieties, and larger, firmer berries were bred. However, we now know that these berries contain significantly less nutrition and anti-oxidants. This is further compounded by the fact that unlike other fruits, strawberries ripen only on the plant, but ripe strawberries do not last, so to satiate our year-round taste for strawberries we have sacrified not only taste, but nutitional potency. The better, old heirloom varietals have been bred out nearly to the point of extinction, so it is more important than ever to grow your own or support small farmers that grow these older varietals.
HOW TO CHOOSE BERRIES
- According to Jo Robinson, who penned one of our favourite books on the topic Eating on the Wild Side, there are a few guidelines to getting the best berries.
- Select only ripe berries. These will be completely red, with no white at all around the stem. They should also be plump and glossy. This will mean that you likely purchasing only in season.
- Commercially produced strawberries were included on this year's "Dirty Dozen" (a list of the most pesticide contaminated fruits, berries and vegetables), so it is important to eat only organic berries.
- Strawberries are most nutritious when freshly picked, so to be sure local is best. Visit the farmer's market weekly, and plan at least one trip to a u-pick farm to get them in bulk at a cheaper price.
STORING & PREPPING
Do not wash them until right before eating, and eat them within 2 days for the most optimal dose of Vitamin C and antioxidants, as they lose a significant percentage after that. Store in quite cold, high humidity conditions if possible. Best eaten raw.
ENJOY THEM ALL YEAR
After your trips to the u-pick farm, freeze what you can't eat within a few days. Wash and dry the berries, then de-stem them but leave whole (preserves the antioxidants). Lay out in a single layer on a large tray, and lightly dust with sugar, powdered pectin or Vitamin C (again, according to Ms Robinson this preserves the antioxidants and nutrients in the berries... who knew!). Place in freezer until frozen, them immediately transfer to a tightly sealed bag.
Super high in antioxidants (dense, so even in small portions you are still getting a good amount) and disease-preventing phytonutrients, which helps to lower inflammation. Lowers blood sugar and promotes cardiovascular health. Amazingly high in Vitamin C.
Looking for a recipe suggestion? Check out this recipe from PGM In Season contributor Jesse Snyder.
OTHER PRODUCE IN SEASON THIS MONTH:
- Collard Greens
- Mustard Greens
- Bok Choy
- Fava Beans
- New Potatoes