Juicy plump strawberries are what Mother Nature serves at spring’s coming out party. When allowed to ripen fully in the field under the sparkling sun, strawberries reward our patience for waiting on their arrival. They lure us with their perfume and collapse into sweet pulp in our mouths. It’s tempting to buy a box of the enormous berries that flood the produce aisle during winter, but the out-of-season picks make promises they can’t keep. They might be brightly colored, but they are often as hard and tasteless as pebbles. Strawberries harvested before they ripen might turn a bit more red after they are picked, but they will never get any sweeter. The key to the fruit’s deliciousness is time in the warm fields to ripen from cap to tip and develop its unmistakable scent. Aroma, not color, is a sure sign of good flavor, so follow your nose to find tasty berries.
Beyond buying them by the flat at farmers’ markets and roadside stands, strawberries are easy pickings for most Southerners at a local pick-your-own berry patch. With a gentle tug, the berries slip right off the plants and into a waiting pail—or into your mouth. It’s been suggested that when a preschool class invades a patch for their very first picking, the farmer would be wise to weigh the children before and after, instead of their buckets. Who can blame the eager eaters? No recipe, not even shortcake, can beat a candy-sweet berry still warm from the sun. Anyone who emerges from a patch without a strawberry-stained smile has missed out.
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It’s easy to grow strawberries at home in the South, from an entire garden to a little patio pot. When planted in a sunny, fertile spot, these perennials produce more plants and berries each year without your having to do a thing besides wait and watch.
We call strawberries “berries,” of course, but actually they aren’t berries, because they wear their seeds on the outside. Strawberries are the only fruit to do so, and each one sports around 200 tiny golden seeds, like a bedazzled party dress. To put an even finer point on this curious characteristic, each strawberry seed is technically a separate fruit, botanically speaking.
Peak season for strawberries is fleeting, only three or four weeks in most cases, so feast while you can. Eat the delectable berries. Preserve any overripe berries. Pickle any under ripe berries. Then eat more delicious ones, as many as you can hold. It’ll be a while before the chance comes around again.
Get our favorite strawberry recipes here.