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Summer is finally here and, at least where I live, all the stores are overflowing with strawberries. Of course, all the same stores have put strawberries on sale. Many people, unable to resist the temptation of the bright, red, juicy berries, buy and bring home excessively many. (Myself, I am fortunate enough to have a strawberry patch in my back yard, which provides me with all the strawberries I could want for the entire summer in the course of about three weeks.) These people, momentarily happy with the strawberries, arrive home and come to the conclusion that the berries will probably go bad before they can use them all. It is a sad thing to waste beautiful strawberries simply for the inability to use them.

As soon as you get home from the store (or return inside from picking), either use the strawberries or refrigerate them. The berries can only sit for a couple of hours before they start to lose flavor and nutritional value. Store them in a loosely covered container and, if possible, place a layer of paper towel between each layer of strawberries, as well as on the bottom of the container. They will keep like this for a couple of days.

When you are ready to use them, take the strawberries from the refrigerator and place them in a colander (or, if a colander is not available, use a bowl) and run cold water over them. Berries that have been picked from the garden may have more dirt on them, so be sure to wash it all off. Dry the berries gently with a paper towel. Remove the tops and cut out any bad spots. The berries can also be halved, sliced, chunked, or any number of things, depending upon what you want to use them for. My favorite way to prepare plain strawberries is to halve them, place them all in a bowl and sprinkle sugar lightly over the top. Use just enough sugar to barely coat the berries. The sugar helps to cover the tartness of the berries, as well as draw out juice. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for about half an hour or until the sugar has dissolved in the juice from the berries. Eat them plain, add whipped cream, place on top of a shortcake, spoon over ice cream, or do any number of wonderful things with them. However, they won’t last for much more than a day after you cut them up, so use them immediately.

If, after making the pies, tarts, shortcakes, etc., you find you still have more strawberries that you can use, they can be frozen. Wash and cut the strawberries and place them in plastic bags or tubs and freeze. While they can be frozen without any preparation, the California Strawberry Commission recommends the following recipe:

In a saucepan, mix equal amounts of sugar and water. Stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture is clear. Cool the mixture completely. Measure one cup of stemmed and sliced strawberries into a pint sized freezer bag. Pour one-half to two-thirds of a cup of the sugar water mixture into the bag... just enough to completely cover the strawberries. Seal and freeze the bag in a single layer.
Frozen strawberries are best used as toppings and in drinks. If you do decide you want to freeze plain strawberries, it helps to freeze them individually on cookie sheets and then place them into a container of your choice.

Now, go forth and buy strawberries without fear of wasting a single one.

Sources:
California Strawberry Commission: http://www.calstrawberry.com

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