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Summer’s there! Warm temperatures, sun and long long light days. Living in the Netherlands, summer is no guarantee for nice weather, rain and cold(er) days are no exception. Summer for me is a synonym for berries, more specifically strawberries. It’s the thing we used to eat with our desserts as a kid and it’s a great fruit to snack on.
Strawberries however are a vulnerable fruit so it is important to choose and store fresh strawberries in a proper way. Luckily, I never have to store them for long. Warm summer days call for cool, fresh pies, so I decided to make a strawberry pie, inspired by these cute little tarts from Laura’s bakery, a beautiful Dutch food blog. The pie was made with a soft dough at the bottom, a layer of creme patissiere and of course fresh stawberries on top!
That’s why today is all about strawberries and how to use and store them.
The importance of tasty fruit
The pie I made consists of a doughy lower layer, with on top a creamy creme patissier (you can find the recipe here) and on top the fresh strawberries. You can add whichever fruits you want on top of this pie. I used 200g of strawberries and 150g of raspberries. It could have done with some more, but tasted great already!
Since this recipe uses only fresh fruit on the top it is very important the fruit is tasty and fresh. The fruit has to be slightly sour with enough sweetness to complement the creamy crunchy layers underneath. A watery strawberry wouldn’t do the job here.
When it comes to choosing and keeping fresh fruit, especially a vulnerable fruit like strawberries, it helps to know what to look for.
Small = packed with flavour
Don’t be fooled in the supermarkets. Leave those huge strawberries where they are. Instead, try to find small strawberries, these are often packed with flavour and sweetness.
I noticed this especially when travelling to the US and Canada some years ago. The strawberries there are huge, but they don’t really taste like anything. When looking into this I did find that I’m not the only one who has noticed this. There are several sites that have written about this phenomenon.
One of the reasons is that growers tend to focus on high yields. They prefer large strawberries which are easy to harvest. Also, they prefer strawberries that do not bruise easily. By continuously selecting for the sturdiest and largest strawberries and not selecting for flavour, strawberries will change into strawberries with not necessarily most flavour.
Flavourful Dutch strawberries
The Netherlands happens to be a big producer of (tasty) strawberries. Half of these strawberries are exported, the other half is sold within the Netherlands. Strawberries can be produced year-round nowadays due to the use of glass houses. Even though the strawberry production has risen greatly over the past 15 years, the quality of the strawberries is still high and the sizes seem to be small.
Spoilage of strawberries
Strawberries tend to be soft and their structure gets damaged very easily. This makes them easy to eat for animals and also allows them to spread around their seeds. But it also makes them very vulnerable.
As you will know, fruits and vegetables have a very specific structure. This structure helps them to keep in water and stay nice and firm (called turgor, read more about the texture of fruit in my separate post).
Once the structure is broken water will leak out of the fruits and the turgor is lost. This is what makes the strawberries soft and soggy when damaged. This opened struture also gives way to microorganisms. Since strawberries, like most fruits, are sour bacteria generally don’t stand a chance to live and grow in them, however, moulds do. A little bit of damage can be enough for mould to enter. Due to the damamged structure there will be plenty of sugar to ‘eat’ from, mould thrive on damaged strawberries!
Storage of fresh strawberries
As mentioned above, when it comes to storing fresh strawberries it is most important to prevent them from damaging. Stacking too many strawberries on top of another can cause them to squash and too little strawberries in a pack might cause them to bump all around during transport.
Second of all, temperature is important. Moulds grow a lot slower in a fridge than at room temperature. Since strawberries do not ripen any further once they’ve been picked, there is no need to keep them out of the fridge to continue ripening.
Strawberries prefer an environment with a high moisture content so make sure they do not dry out. However, just like any other fruit and vegetable, strawberries do need access to oxygen to prevent spoilage. Therefore, do not store a lot of strawberries in a little container, they will run out of oxygen quickly. Instead, keep a contained slightly open or pack a small number in a large container.
Slicing & storing fresh strawberries
No matter what type of damage has occured to strawberries, their decay will set in. Therefore, slicing strawberries will shorten their shelf life as well. When using strawberries on a pie, make sure to slice them only shortly before using, that way they will stay best for longest.
When you do not plan to use your strawberries any time soon there is one other option, freeze them. I have never done this though, no matter what you do, the texture will change in the freezer. Read more about using frozen fruits.
The growth of (huge) strawberries has also been reported by the NPR, it’s a great article.