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Celebrate Spring with Fresh Florida Strawberries

The strawberry we know today came to be in the eighteenth century after a French spy on a mission to Chile smuggled the first large scarlet strawberry home to France. In King Louis XV's garden at Versailles the New World berry was crossed with another berry which Virginia colonists had sent back to England. This new berry astonished the king with its increased flavor, size, and fertility. At the time of the French Revolution, English gardeners took over strawberry cultivation, growing them outside London to supply the eager market.

In the United States, the commercial development of strawberries has come principally since the Civil War, and most of today's varieties originated within the last 60 years.

Image of people picking strawberries in a field
Florida is the nation's second-largest producer of fresh strawberries, with Hillsborough County producing 21 percent of the nation's strawberries. Florida's strawberry season begins in November and runs through May.

The average harvest will vary in one season from 2,000 to 3,300 flats per acre, with a total Florida production of 14 million flats.

Although we all think of a deep ruby-red, cone-shaped berry, there are many varieties grown in Florida. Shapes and colors vary with cultivars from the ruby-red skin color and cone-shape to flat-point orange-red skin color. Internal fruit color ranges from mostly bright red to white.

Buy fruit that is ripe but firm -- overripe fruit will have less flavor and may even taste musty or slightly unpleasant. Choose berries that are scarlet, shiny, plump and fragrant, with fresh green caps.

Inspect flats of fruit carefully for any signs of mold as this will taint the surrounding berries. Immediately discard any damaged or moldy fruit. White shoulders or tips show they have not had enough sun to ripen. If berries are not fully ripened you may leave flats out in a well-ventilated area overnight, but only if completely dry. Wash them just before using and remove the stems and hulls after washing.

Strawberries, as with any berry, will store longer when laid out flat on a paper-lined sheet-pan.

To increase yield, resist the temptation to hull these berries using a knife. Hold the calyx (the green top) firmly and twist it gently as you pull it out of the fruit. The white hull or core will come out in one piece attached to the calyx.

Strawberries are low in calories, high in fiber, and contain vitamins A, B and C. One cup of berries will provide your entire daily requirement of vitamin C.

When macerating strawberries with sugar, add a bit of salt, too. Although salt has more than one function in cakes, its primary function is taste enhancement. The same principle holds true for berries.

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