Savor Spring’s (early) Sweetness with Strawberries

Savor Spring’s (early) Sweetness with Strawberries

Strawberries from southern California are starting in time for Valentine’s Day.

By Robbie Sigona

A seriously concerned customer asked me the other day, “How are the strawberries?”

I replied, rather compassionately, “They’ve been through a lot.” And indeed they have! With all the rains and fluctuating temperatures, especially in southern California, where these berries are coming from, it has been extremely hard for these fragile fruits to develop properly.

However, with the recent break in weather along the southern California coast– the Oxnard area in particular – strawberry growers have had a chance to harvest some of the season’s first strawberries…just in time for Valentine’s Day, no less.

I’ve always thought of strawberries as a romantic fruit, and not just because they’re red and heart-shaped. These first-of-the-season strawberries from Oxnard, which is near Santa Barbara, will get sweeter as the season progresses, but they’ll be perfect as a lusciously sweet topping on a dessert for two, or dipped in chocolate or even sliced and added to a glass of bubbly.

It’s always exciting when we bring in the first-of-the-season berries from Oxnard – it means spring is just around the corner and soon our store will be full of new fruits and vegetables. The strawberries from Oxnard are surprisingly sweet and large for this early in the season, and their large size is impressive.

Oxnard is blessed with a cool, coastal location that is optimally suited for growing strawberries. Its sunny days and cool nights add more flavor to the fruit.

We’ve just received word from some of our local, organic growers that the unusually warm weather has helped sprout some first-of-the-season strawberries in Watsonville. This means that if the weather continues to be sunny and warm, we may have locally grown, organic berries in the store later this week! There is rain in the forecast for this weekend and next week, but we can keep our fingers crossed for local, organic berries arriving in time for Valentine’s Day. Remember, though, that as the season progresses, we’ll bring in more strawberries from local farms, including Georgia Chiala Farms in nearby Morgan Hill, too.

To ensure the strawberries you purchase taste their best, look for fresh-picked, local berries and try to use them within a day or two. Also, make sure to bring them to room temperature before you eat them. A berry at room temperature will explode with flavor and fill the room with a sweet, tantalizing fragrance.

“That powerful flavor and scent takes me back to my childhood,” said my uncle Carmelo Sigona. “As a boy I worked in my uncle’s produce market where it was my job to ‘work’ the strawberries. The fresh Shasta and Tioga varieties were so vine-ripe and delicate they spoiled quickly, but the fragrance of the just-picked berries was so powerful my mouth would water. Now who doesn’t love that?”

Let’s not forget the health benefits of strawberries. This red fruit is packed with antioxidants, fiber, folate, potassium and vitamin C. In fact, according to the California Strawberry Commission, strawberries are among the top three fruits that carry antioxidants! They’re also great for the heart as folate can decrease systolic blood pressure, reduce serum cholesterol levels and break down amino acids in the blood. Plus, potassium can decrease hypertension, another term used to describe high blood pressure.

We hope you have a happy Valentine’s Day and encourage you to take advantage of some of these early-season berries. Taking the time to prepare something special for someone you love is a thing to celebrate. Here are a few recipes to help get you started.

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