Spice Up Strawberry Season

I have been working for Buy Fresh Buy Local for three years and have gone to more events and markets on behalf of the organization than I can count. The one question I hear more than any other question by far is “When will the strawberries be ready?” followed by “Where can I go to pick them?” I’m happy to say that the answers are finally “now” and “just about everywhere.”

Here in Tidewater we love our strawberries so much that exactly 30 years ago, we started a Strawberry Festival in the Pungo section of Virginia Beach to honor this sweet yet tart little fruit. This year the strawberry festival will be held May 25th and 26th, but strawberries will be ripe and ready for picking long before the festival gets going. Get out to the fields and pick early to avoid the Mother’s Day and Memorial Weekend crowds. And while Pungo certainly has the most condensed area of strawberry picking farms—including Henley’s, Cullipher Farm, New Earth Farm, Salem Berry Farm, Vaughan Farms Produce, Flanagan Farms, Brookdale Farms, Baybreeze Farm, and Flip Flop Farmer—other areas of Hampton Roads also have pick your own fields, too—including Brookdale Farms in Chesapeake on Mount Pleasant Road, Lilley Farms in the Western Branch area of Chesapeake and in Suffolk, Drewry Farms in Surry County, and Hickory Ridge Farms in the Hickory area of Chesapeake, which is having its first ever Strawberry JAMboree on the farm Saturday, May 4th.

Picking strawberries with the kids is a great tradition to start and maintain, and it opens the door to have conversations with them about where their food comes from, the importance of farms and farmers, and how fresh, whole foods can also be delicious. Because even through strawberries are sweet and tangy enough to feel like an indulgence, the fact is that these berries pack a powerful nutritional punch. According to the USDA, 1 cup of strawberries has 3 grams of fiber, 1 gram of protein, 149 percent of your daily recommended vitamin C and fewer than 50 calories. Superfruits, indeed!

And while most of us are content to eat the strawberries right out of the basket, recipes and preparation methods for them run the gamut from the expected but cherished strawberry pie to the unexpected but surprisingly perfect strawberry salsa.

This year, try something different and spice up your strawberries. Coastal Farms Co-op suggests serving a cup of them cut up with 1/2 teaspoon of mace—a spice made from the red, waxy coating found on the nutmeg seed. But use it sparingly as its flavor (which is similar to nutmeg) is intense. If you’re health conscious or just need a meal on the go, try the strawberry smoothie, which uses tahini, a sesame seed paste, to help keep you full for longer. Finally, try the recipe for strawberry salsa, which is great with chips or served over fresh, local fish or chicken right off the grill for an unexpected twist on this much beloved symbol of agriculture in our region.

Strawberry Smoothie
4 large strawberries
1/4 cup low fat plain yogurt
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 T. tahini
1 medium size banana
1/2 t. vanilla
1 T. honey
Remove stems from strawberries and wash.
Blend all ingredients in blender until smooth.
Makes two 8-oz. glasses
Recipe courtesy of HungerforHealth.com

Sassy Strawberry Salsa
1 pint juicy strawberries, cleaned and chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, minced
1/4 medium red onion, minced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 green onion, chopped
2 T. fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 t. crushed red pepper
1/4 c. fresh orange juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all, allow to chill 1 1/2 hours, and serve with chips
Recipe courtesy of Jane Cullipher, Cullipher Farms

For more information on where to pick strawberries, visit www.buylocalhamptonroads.org or look for the new 2013 food guide in various locations across Hampton Roads.

Rachel Burns

Rachel Burns is the owner at The Content Chop Shop, a small shop providing content marketing services to small businesses, designers and nonprofits. She is also the co-owner of Burn Both Ends, which develops and presents educational opportunities and resources for small businesses looking to grow. She is a local to Hampton Roads and a vocal spokesperson for all its myriad advantages, her favorites of which is the Atlantic Ocean. She has been published in The Virginian Pilot, Tidewater Women, and AltDaily, among others. She lives in the Hickory section of Chesapeake with her husband, two pugs and several feral cats.

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