It's the berries: Facts you might not have known

April 21, 1991|By McClatchy News Service

Is there a more sensual fruit?

The strawberry calls to mind all manner of delicious description. It's sweetly succulent and ravishingly red. It's wonderful in every way -- in a sauce, soup or tart, in a cake, cream, mousse, jam or puree, dipped in melted chocolate, or fresh with a dollop of just-whipped cream.

Rich, heart-shaped and ruby-red, this member of the rose family grows, well, like a weed in the wild.

It's available year-round in some parts of the country, though out of season it is often bred for shelf life, not flavor. It is at its freshest in California between April and June.

Highly perishable, the strawberry is best purchased from a market that replenishes its supply daily. Better yet, find a farm where you can pick your own.

Other strawberry tips:

* Choose bright, plump berries that are uniform in size and still have green caps intact. Stay away from soft, shriveled, discolored fruit with any signs of mold.

* Store strawberries in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 ot 3 days. Don't wash berries until ready to use.

* The most oft-quoted reference to strawberries is that by William Butler, circa 1600: "Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did."

* In Napoleonic times, a certain Mme Tallien added strawberry juice to her bath water to keep her skin smooth and satiny. She ordered a full 22 pounds of berries crushed every time.

* The Romans believed strawberries had therapeutic powers and could cure a lot of what ailed them -- from gastritis to loose teeth.

* In 1840, during his presidential campaign, Martin Van Buren was criticized on the grounds that he used public funds to grow strawberries for his own table.

* Strawberries are grown in every state, though California grows a full 75 percent of the U.S. supply.

* Strawberries are a rich source of vitamin C; 1 cup provides more than a medium orange. High in iron and containing only 60 calories a cup, strawberries are a healthful treat.

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