If you’re eager for the sweet taste of fresh strawberries when spring comes around, you’re in luck. Other than rhubarb, strawberries are the first fruit to ripen in the spring and early summer months.
Advances in transportation and refrigeration have allowed for strawberries to become a seasonless fruit. They can be grown in any state and then trucked all over the country.
Large-scale growers are most interested in size, firmness and resistance to disease and pests, and not so much with taste. So remember this: Strawberries grown in a hot-house, or grown in California or Florida and then trucked to Illinois, aren’t the same as those grown at a local farm such as Eckert’s where they can be picked and eaten in season. You can taste the difference.
Strawberries are one of the most cultivated fruits in the country. There are about 600 varieties. The many types differ in size, taste and texture. The smaller berries normally have stronger flavor, and large berries contain more water and have a weaker flavor. The ideal growing conditions are a bit different for every one of the types. Because of that, and the varied locations where they are grown, the national strawberry season is said to run January through November.
In the Deep South, when to harvest strawberries will usually be late April and May. In the middle part of the country, at Eckert’s, May and June are typically best. In the far north and in Canada, the peak time will normally be in late June. The natural growing season in Illinois and through most of the country is April through June.
When is the Strawberry Season?
The peak harvest season only lasts about three weeks, so be sure to keep up with conditions frequently. If you’re picking, call your local farm. If you’re shopping, take a close look at what’s at your favorite store. The timing is not an exact science, and it varies every year depending on weather conditions such as moisture and temperatures.
Pay close attention while you’re picking.
In strawberry season, the fruit should have a consistent, deep, shiny red color, plump shape and no blemishes. They should have a noticeable strawberry scent and a medium firmness. If they’re too hard and partly white, that is an indication they are not yet ripe. If they’re soft, it means they are overly ripe. They should be mold-free with intact green stems. The best ones to pick have about one-quarter of the stem attached.
Once strawberries are picked, they stop ripening. Imported strawberries are often picked too early to prevent them from getting mushy while they are transported. That’s why imported strawberries are often too hard and have less flavor than those grown here in Illinois at Eckert’s.
Strawberries are fragile and will easily blemish, so be careful when picking. Once they are bruised, they will degrade faster and will not store as well.
Remember too that strawberries are among the fruits most treated with chemicals and pesticides. That’s why it’s a good idea to pick your own somewhere like Eckert’s, which limits its use of crop protectants.