Possibly the world’s most popular berry, strawberries are an unmistakable sign that spring has arrived. While many mass-produced strawberry varieties are bred for texture and size over taste, organically grown strawberries preserve the delicate wild sweetness that makes these springtime treats legendary.
Humans have enjoyed wild strawberries for millennia but did not begin cultivating them until relatively recently. Around the 14th century, it was common practice to forage wild strawberry plants from the forest and replant in a kitchen garden—one French king collected 1,200 wild plants for his royal garden. By the 17th century, several European subspecies had been crossed, and with the addition of a female-flowering species brought back from South America, the modern strawberry was born. The first fully domesticated strawberry was farmed in northern France at the end of the 18th century.
The ancient Romans consumed wild strawberries (the leaves and stems as well as the fruits) to cure depression; crushed strawberries mixed with salt were also a folk remedy to heal blisters and wounds. In the 18th century Europe, strawberries were considered to heal kidney stones, gout, and even summer colds; today’s science bears this out, with evidence supporting the ability of strawberries to help reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation, and prevent blood sugar and insulin spikes.
In general, it’s best to leave berries unwashed until just before using. That said, if you plan to save the strawberries for more than a couple of days, it can help to wash them in a vinegar bath to kill any spores on the fruit. Submerge strawberries in a cold bath of 1 part white vinegar to 8 parts water, leave for no more than 5 minutes, then spread out between two towels, and let air-dry completely before returning to the refrigerator.
Before using in a recipe, pick through strawberries and remove any that have gone extra soft (unless you plan to puree them in a soup or sauce). Rinse strawberries in cold water, then remove the hulls with the end of a knife or by simply pinching off the green stem with your fingers.
Strawberry desserts are found in cultural foodways across the globe, from English/American strawberry shortcake and Swedish Midsummer cake to Mexican fresas con crema and Chinese tanghulu. But strawberries offer a sweet overtone to a variety of savory dishes, pairing well with ingredients like pork, fennel, spinach, spicy peppers, feta or goat cheese, and fresh herbs like basil, tarragon or sage. Try adding strawberries to salsa, gazpacho, or teriyaki sauce, or simmering with peppercorns in red wine or balsamic vinegar for an all-purpose seasonal condiment to use over meat. Combine halved strawberries with torn basil and slices of Brie for a new take on the Caprese salad, or layer with Prosciutto, ricotta and fines herbs on toasted bread for a sweet-savory crostini.
To freeze fresh strawberries, rinse, hull, and slice strawberries in half. (Smaller berries can be left whole.) Place strawberries on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, ensuring the berries do not touch each other. Place the baking sheet of strawberries in your freezer for 2 to 3 hours, removing when partially frozen. Transfer to a resealable bag, press out as much air as possible, and return bag to the freezer. Frozen strawberries will keep for up to 1 year.