Just off the vine – STRAWBERRIES!

Back in the day, like in 1997, the supermarket produce section was a veritable wasteland, at least when it came to fruit. Between the months of October and April selection was limited to oranges, apples, bananas and maybe grapes.

May was always a celebration for me, for with the arrival of late spring came a plethora of  sweet, colorful, gorgeous, taste bud seducing fruit – blackberries, raspberries, cherries, peaches and STRAWBERRIES.

Over a decade later it’s a different world. Due to agreements like NAFTA, the World Trade Organization and other bilateral trade agreements Americans’ consumption of imported fruits and vegetables has more than doubled since 1993. Summer fruit is available in the year round due to imports from Latin American countries like Chile and Mexico.

There are a host of political, ethical and health debates surrounding these imports. I’m not going to get into those issues here, I’ll just say that there’s nothing like a fresh, locally grown strawberry.

The health benefits of strawberries are many. Strawberries are high in Vitamin C -with a 1 cup serving giving you  136% of the RDA for Vitamin C. Strawberries are also a good source of fiber and contain the powerful antioxidants anthocyanins type 2 and ellagitannins which give strawberries their rich red color. Several studies have shown that anthocyanins help prevent the development of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Anthocyanins also have anti-inflammatory properties. In addition to their antioxidant properties, strawberries help protect against age related macular degeneration.

Local strawberries are usually available from May through mid-July. Look for berries that are vibrant in color and have their leaves attached.  Berries spoil quickly, so be sure to purchase them no more than a fews days in advance. Store berries unwashed in your refrigerator.  After 2-3 days your best bet is to trim, wash and freeze the berries. Frozen berries will keep up to 1 year.

In you live in Delco or on the Main Line go to the Oakmont Farmers’ Market (Wednesdays), the Bryn Mawr Farmer’s Market (Saturdays) or Linvilla Orchards (they have a Strawberry Festival on June 5th), where you can pick your own.

Check out this great recipe for a Strawberry and Arugula Salad from EatingWell.com