Bush of red strawberry growing in a garden

Strawberries

Beautiful, red, sweet, and juicy, this brilliant berry is adored by many. It’s a common site in stores and farmers markets, and sought out for its bright color and scrumptious sweetness.

Even the scent of the strawberry is quite popular and mimicked in many beauty products, candles, and cleaners. While the strawberry is rather popular today, it has been around since antiquity, growing wild and used mainly as an ornamental, since in its original wild form it lacked flavor and juiciness. However, in the 14th century cultivation of the strawberry began in Europe by the French. From there many cultivars were developed and the popularity of the strawberry as more than an ornamental grew.

Beautiful Blossoms

Strawberries are members of the Rosaceae (Rose) family and go by the name Fragaria x ananassa. The “x” in the name designates the plant is of hybrid origin, with the strawberry hailing from 2 species. And while we call strawberries fruit, they actually aren’t. In fact, the fleshy, edible part of the plant is an enlarged receptacle of the flower, and what we typically refer to as the seeds on the strawberry’s exterior, are called achenes. An achene is a dry fruit created by some plants, including strawberries and sunflowers, in which the ripened ovary contains only a single seed. So, when consuming a strawberry, you are actually eating the achenes and the flower!

Beginning Berries

If you want to give it a go at growing this edible flower, then start with a spot in your garden with full sun and well drained sandy loamy soil that has a pH around 6. Steer clear of planting strawberries in the same location that nightshades have been planted within the past 4-5 years, as these plants can carry root fungus that can infect strawberries. It’s also best to place plants on a gradual slope to prevent frost damage by allowing cold air to drain away from them. Also place your strawberries in a location you can dedicate to them, as these are perennials and will come back each spring. Plus, strawberry plants will send out runners, often called daughters, so they will need some room to spread.

Once you have selected your location, plant strawberry seedlings as soon as soil can be worked to allow for plants to be well established before hot weather arrives, as excessive heat can make these berries taste bitter. However, do not work wet soil. Allow soil to dry for a few days before planting. Sow plants 18” apart within rows, with 4’ between rows. Seeds can be planted as well, they just take more time, care, and diligence.

As your strawberries grow be sure to water adequately to ensure proper growth, but don’t let plants remain wet or have poor air circulation. These conditions can promote mold growth. Weed your strawberry patch regularly, as weeds can outcompete strawberries, reduce air circulation, and promote insect infestation. While it’s common to mulch strawberries in late fall to prevent frost damage, just be sure to remove the mulch by early spring. Keeping your garden tidy throughout the seasons can reduce problems with pests and disease.

Following the blossoming of your strawberries, you will be able to harvest ripe strawberries within 4-8 weeks. High strawberry production usually lasts about 3 weeks. However, in the first year of strawberry planting, little to no fruit may be produced, but yields will come the following year. Once you get a crop of these beautiful bold berries it will be time to harvest and enjoy them.

Nurturing Nutrition

Beyond their delicious flavor and enchanting scent, strawberries also offer many nutritional benefits. One cup of sliced strawberries (166 grams) offers 53 calories, 0g fat, 1g protein, and 13g carbohydrates (3g of which is dietary fiber). Strawberries are excellent sources of Vitamin C and manganese and a good source of folate (B-9) and potassium. To a lesser extent, strawberries are also a source of Vitamins B-1 (thiamin), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3 (niacin), B-6, A, K-1, and E (tocopherol) and minerals copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. However, mineral content is affected by soil composition and condition. Strawberries also contain polyphenolic compounds such as anthocyanins, with Pelargonidin-3-glucoside being the most predominant. Due to strawberries’ antioxidants and polyphenols, they are able to significantly decrease oxidative stress and inflammation and boost our immune system. This allows them to reduce our risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers, neurological disease, and other chronic diseases.

With such a nutritional powerhouse wrapped in such a delicious little package, eating strawberries is a must. Luckily there’s almost no limit to what you can create with these little red wonders. From soups to salads, to smoothies and salsas, and all the way to pies and pancakes, the strawberry has an amazing assortment of culinary uses. While strawberries are even incredible on their own, they are indeed wonderful in a range of recipes. One of my favorite recipes to create with strawberries is strawberry shortcake. Since strawberries are sweet enough, I don’t add sugar to this recipe so the full brilliance of the strawberry flavor can come through.

Fresh Strawberry Shortcakes

Cakes:

Ingredients:

6 large eggs
8 oz. cream cheese
½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla

Toppings:

2 dozen strawberries
2 cups heavy whipping cream
Lemon for juicing if you make the puree

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300°F

Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper

Separate the egg whites from the yolks into two separate bowls

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form

Set aside

Add cream cheese, vanilla, and baking powder to egg yolks

Beat until smooth

Gently fold egg whites into egg yolk mixture until combined

Scoop mixture with a small measuring cup and place dollops of the mixture onto prepared pan, approximately 1-2” apart

Smooth dollops so you have approximately 1” high and 4” in diameter circle cakes

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until tops are golden brown

While cakes bake remove stems and hulls from strawberries

Slice strawberries and place in refrigerator until ready to use

Place heavy whipping cream into a chilled bowl

Beat on low for 1 minute

Increase speed of mixer and beat until soft peaks form (do not overbeat)

Place cream in refrigerator until ready to use

Once cakes are done baking remove from oven and let sit on pan for 1-2 minutes

Remove cakes from pan and place on a cooling rack

Once cool enough to handle, slice cakes in half so you have 2 small circle cakes

Top each cake with desired amount of strawberries and cream

If you have strawberries leftover you can puree them with a small bit of lemon juice and drizzle on top of cakes

Solely Sweet

However you choose to enjoy the splendid sweet strawberry, you really can’t go wrong. It’s a beautiful fruit, I mean flower, with a remarkable fragrance and stunning color. It grows bright and bold in its impeccable patch and provides noteworthy nutrition, flavor, and flair to any dish. Planting this perennial will provide you with years of health and gardening wealth. Like the ever simple strawberry, stay sweet my friends, and grow on!

References:

Giampieri, F. 2012. Elsevier Inc. Nutritional. The strawberry: Composition, nutritional quality, and impact on human health. V:28 (2012). Pages: 9–19. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2011.08.009. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51863337_The_strawberry_Composition_nutritional_quality_and_impact_on_human_health

Handley, D. 2011. Cooperative Extension Publications. University of Maine. Bulletin #2067, Growing Strawberries. https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/2067e/

Jauron, R., et al. June 4, 2015. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Yard and Garden: Maintaining June-Bearing Strawberry Plantings. http://www.extension.iastate.edu/article/yard-and-garden-maintaining-june-bearing-strawberry-plantings

University of Illinois Extension. 2017. University of Illinois Extension. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. College of ACES. University of Illinois Board of Trustees. Strawberries & More. https://extension.illinois.edu/strawberries/index.cfm

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