Arkansans are gifted in the spring and summer with strawberries, one of the most widely loved fruits on any plate. The juicy heart-shaped berry is so versatile, it is featured in salads, soups, side dishes and a plethora of desserts. Although modern farming techniques produce the ruby-red orbs year-round, the quality of locally grown strawberries can’t be beat. Tender and naturally sweet, the crop is usually ready in mid-April, and the plants produce for six to eight weeks — that is if fickle Mother Nature is on your side.
With an extremely wet spring and record low temperatures this year, the strawberry crop has been slow to arrive. In 2012, most farmers were able to start picking berries in the first week of April. This year, Bill Landreth of Jackson County was able to start picking only a few days before the end of the month, with much of his crop begging for some sustained sunshine.
“Heat means sweet,” Landreth said last week while a dozen men worked the rows that were mature enough for cultivation. “If we could get five or six days of sunshine, this whole situation would be different.”
Blushing berries are one of the first harbingers of spring, and aficionados know where to find the sweetest scarlet delights.
Strawberries are also popular crops for backyard gardeners. According to Better Homes & Gardens, no matter where you live in the country, there is a strawberry variety that will thrive in your home garden.
Whether you grow these sweet scarlet delights or buy them by the bushel at a farm stand, a few steps can be taken to preserve the fruit. Be careful not to buy more than you can eat or preserve soon — the moist morsels can mold quickly at room temperature, and refrigeration only gives you a couple more days. Wash, cut the hulls (stem and leaves) off, and pop the berries into a freezer bag, and remove as much air as possible — by squeezing or using a vacuum sealer.
STRAWBERRY BANANA PIE
Beverly Smith is a strawberry expert. She has run the farm stand at Bill’s Berries every season he has been in business — 14 years. “The flavor of banana combines perfectly with the ripe, sweet strawberries for a delicious treat,” she said. “This recipe makes one for now, one for later.”
2 pie crusts (store-bought or fresh)
4 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
2 bananas, sliced
(Tip: Toss with a little lemon juice to keep from browning.)
1 1/2 cups cold water
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 package strawberry Jell-O
(Makes two pies)
Prebake pie crusts. Line the bottoms with sliced bananas; set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine cold water, sugar and cornstarch. Stir until well combined. Cook over medium-high heat until thick and clear. Add Jell-O, and stir until dissolved. Stir in the sliced berries. Pour over bananas, and chill until set. Serve with whipped topping.
GUILTLESS GREEK YOGURT STRAWBERRY PARFAIT
Candi Grace likes this healthy twist for perfect summer berries. Balsamic vinegar has a sweetness that gives the dessert a taste that appeals to savory palates, too.
1 1/2 cups strawberries, sliced
1 cup blueberries
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 packet stevia (2 teaspoons sugar or other sweetener, if desired)
1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sweetener and vinegar in small bowl and set aside.
Heat berries on rimmed baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes until berries start to release juices. Mix with sweetener/vinegar mixture.
Layer yogurt and berries in a parfait glass or bowl. Serve immediately.
Carolyn Shirley makes this family favorite when strawberries are in season. It is a cherished recipe that she has passed down to her daughters, Suzanne and Lynne.
1 box white cake mix
1 cup Wesson oil
1/2 cup water
1 small box strawberry Jell-O (use a couple tablespoons of water to make into a paste)
1/2 cup strawberries, sliced
1 box confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/4 cup margarine
1/2 cup strawberries, sliced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 9- by 13-inch pan.
Mix cake mix, oil, water and eggs with a hand mixer until combined. Stir in Jell-O paste and strawberries last, by hand. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes.
While cake is baking, combine sugar and margarine. Fold in berries.