by Mike Dimond, North County Farmer's Markets
You might be interested to know that California produces 80 percent of the strawberries grown in the U. S. And might like to know that the coast, from San Francisco to San Diego, is where those berries are grown. But what you really need to know, is that NOW is the time to enjoy local strawberries at the height of their season, and Farmers' Market is the best place to buy them directly from the farmer who's growing them.
Chat with shoppers at the Markets and you'll find that folks are passionate about their strawberries, and they come to market seeking their favorite varieties. Two names that are mentioned repeatedly are Chandler and Albion, and they tell the story of strawberry culture in our modern food age. Like other fruits and vegetables (think tomatoes), strawberries are fragile and highly perishable, characteristics that do not make them good candidates for mass production and long distance shipping. In order to meet the needs of commercial agriculture, strawberries have been bred for size, firmness and durability, at the expense of juiciness and flavor.
Like so much of our fresh produce, a common reaction is that strawberries "just don't taste like they did when we were kids". Two varieties you'll find at Farmers Market have attracted loyal fans for having the flavor and juiciness of the strawberries we remember, and they did it in different ways.
The Chandler strawberry IS that old time strawberry. Long favored for tender, juicy flesh and great strawberry flavor, it was largely abandoned in commercial agriculture by the late 1990s, largely due to the very characteristics that made it popular. The growth of Farmers' Markets and other direct to the public marketing have created a niche for the Chandler's revival, and it has become one of the most popular strawberries at the Markets.
The Albion is another approach to solving the blah-berry problem. Developed at the UC Davis strawberry breeding program, the Albion resulted from an effort to breed a commercially viable berry without sacrificing the qualities most important to the consumer. By all accounts the effort was a great success.
In a strawberry comparison at University of Nottingham, England, research showed that "Albion contains twice the amount of flavour compounds of other varieties tested", and one of the tasters found that "Albion stood head and shoulders above the others, with an even balance of sweetness and acidity, along with a well-rounded, intense strawberry flavour." Locally, Farmers' Market shoppers concur.
Now it's your turn, taste both varieties and find your favorite. Velasquez Farms and Bautista Farms have strawberries at North County Farmers Markets NOW!
Here are a few ideas to help you enjoy strawberries in ways you may not have thought about...
- Grilled Cheese Sandwich with strawberries and Taleggio
- Strawberry and Poppy Seed Salad Dressing (and toss a few strawberry slices into the salad too!)
- Roasted Strawberries - amazing over ice cream
- Spicy Strawberry Sauce for grilled meats
Here is a recipe for Strawberry Salsa - this is perfect with Baked Fish Filet with Farmers Market Veggies
2 cups chopped strawberries
1 small avocado diced
1 carrot grated
2 TBL cilantro chopped
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 TBL finely diced jalapeno (to taste)
2 TBL balsamic vinegar
zest 1 lime
juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine balsamic vinegar, lime juice and lime zest in a bowl, mix well.
Fold in the other ingredients.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cover and rest for at least 20 minutes to blend the flavors.
Serve with tortilla chips, or with fish, poultry or pork.
Farmer's Market takes place every Tuesday from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. in the Paso Robles City Park, each Saturday from 9:00 to noon in the Templeton park, and all over the county the rest of the week. To find a Farmers' Market and more Farm Fresh Recipes visit the Farmers Market web site.