May is national strawberry month. It feels fitting that this is when Americans celebrate strawberries, since spring and early summer provide prime picking conditions, of course. Today, though, let’s discuss some facts about strawberries, some tips on how to grow them, and share a unique recipe so we can all take full advantage of this flavorful fruit.
Botanically speaking, strawberries aren’t actually berries, as my son will remind anyone within earshot. The term strawberry is thought to originate from the fact that these plants were covered in straw to protect them from frost. At any rate, those “seeds” you see on the outside of every strawberry are tiny individual fruits that are contained in the fleshy part of the strawberry. That may sound odd, but it is true. Strawberries are technically part of the rose family within the plant kingdom. Other fruits that are included in the rose family are apples, pears, plums, cherries, apricots, peaches, blackberries, and even raspberries, which brings to mind the famous Shakespeare quote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Yes, I know, he was not talking about strawberries. In any account…
Back in the early 1600s, wild strawberries were found in abundance in North America. Jamestown settlers found them all over the place, and they often sprang up on their own in abandoned gardens and fields. There are early records from that era reporting that these strawberries tasted even better than the ones found in England. The first garden variety of strawberries came about over a century later in France, around the 1750s. Today, there are hundreds of varieties of strawberries in the world, carefully cultivated for specific purposes and characteristics.
Another interesting fact about strawberries is that they can be found in all 50 states, that’s right, even in Alaska. So, they are hardy plants and adaptable plants, for sure. Most garden-grown strawberries thrive in temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same time, most strawberries can withstand colder temperatures down to 22 degrees if they are well-protected from frost. Harvest season typically occurs anywhere from April to June, but they can be picked in other months depending on the climate. For instance, California grows 80 percent of the strawberries sold in the United States in the spring, but from December to March, Florida is the one of the main states that grows and harvests them.
We should all love the fact that strawberries are low in calories and high in vitamins too. You may be surprised to know that eight medium-sized strawberries contain more vitamin C than an entire orange, the fruit famous for the vitamin. They also contain vitamin A, vitamin B9, potassium, antioxidants, and a decent amount of fiber. Additionally, raw strawberries have a low glycemic index, making them compatible with a diabetic diet. Even severely carb-restricted Adkins dieters use strawberries and homemade whipped cream as a special treat from time-to-time.
If you’re interested in growing strawberries but don’t have a garden, no problem! It’s pretty simple to grow strawberries in a pot. The number one thing to remember is avoid overcrowding strawberry transplants. Since their roots are fairly shallow, you can plant up to three plants in one square foot of soil. The bigger the pot, the more space you have to plant all of your strawberries. Use a container with a drainage hole at the bottom and fill it with fertilized soil or potting mix. Make a mound in the soil and spread the transplant roots over it. Cover the roots with more soil, being careful not to cover the area where the stem meets the roots. Add a generous amount of water and more soil if necessary if the soil settles.
Strawberries need at least six hours of sunlight every day and should be watered whenever the soil feels dry. If the soil feels damp to the touch still, don’t overwater the plant. Hotter weather may require more frequent watering though, especially with potted plants. Consider buying a lighter colored resin or plastic pot for your strawberries to maintain the temperature of its roots better.
To conclude, perhaps a savory strawberry recipe is in order to share with you. So, continue reading to learn how to make the fancy-sounding, yet simple “almond crusted chicken with a balsamic strawberry sauce”:
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
⅓ cup coarsely ground plain almonds
⅓ cup chicken broth
3 teaspoons canola oil, divided
¼ cup chopped shallots
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
For the sauce:
⅓ cup strawberry preserves
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1 package (9 ounces) fresh baby spinach
Get a shallow dish or plate and comine the breadcrumbs, almonds, salt, and pepper. Prepare the chicken by patting each piece dry with a paper towel and thoroughly coat each piece in the breadcrumb mixture. Next, heat a large skillet with 2 teaspoons of oil and cook the chicken for about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove once they are cooked through and keep the chicken warm on a plate and cover with tin foil.
Using the same skillet, cook the shallots in one more teaspoon of oil until they are tender. Stir in the broth, strawberry preserves, vinegar, and rosemary and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow your sauce to simmer for 5 minutes or until thickened. While it is simmering, get a large saucepan and add half an inch of water and bring it to a boil. Add your spinach leaves and cover the pan, letting the spinach boil until they have wilted, which will probably take about 5 minutes. Drain the spinach and divide it evenly. For presentation purposes, you can plate some spinach in the middle of each plate followed by one of the chicken pieces on top. Drizzle the strawberry sauce on top for a finishing touch, then serve and enjoy.
As always, this red, juicy berry is delightful and delicious to eat on its own, in freezer jam, with smoothies, or in various desserts. Even when it is not strawberry season, we can still enjoy them frozen by adding them to milkshakes or ice cream cakes. Be sure to take advantage of as many fresh strawberries as possible this year. May you have a wonderful May, fellow Lintonians!