Food

Map your trail to tasty, fresh Valley strawberries

April 7, 2010 

Finally, it’s spring.

The official turn of the seasons took place in March, but it’s never really feels like spring until local strawberries arrive. Cold weather delayed the harvest season; now, boxes of red berries are starting to grace farmers markets and farm stands.

It’s still cool, so don’t expect all the stands and stores to have them right now. Warmer weather over the next couple of weeks should usher in a wave of strawberries.

There’s the Chandler, a juicy, sweet variety that’s the traditional favorite in the central San Joaquin Valley. And the Albion, with large, firm berries and lots of sweetness.

Other varieties are the Camarosa and Seascape. Conventional wisdom says they’re not as sweet, but “we’re talking about minute differences,” says Richard Molinar, a farm adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension.

As the temperature warms to about 80 degrees, strawberries hit their peak — and it’s harder to tell the difference in the varieties’ flavors.

Since the temperatures aren’t there yet, you may not want to eat all of those strawberries unadorned. Puree some for the strawberry limeade from Limón restaurant, near Hooters at El Paso and Blackstone Avenues.

Or turn them into freezer jam, as denesse Willey of T&D Willey Farms in Madera does. (Follow the directions exactly on the pectin packages, she says.)

Here’s your annual list of Fresno County farms that sell strawberries, along with some tips for selecting and storing them.

If you know of more strawberry stands, send an e-mail with their locations to jobra@fresnobee.com. The Bee will keep the map at fresno bee.com up to date.

Organic vs. conventional

Some folks insist on buying organic strawberries because the Environmental Working Group calls strawberries part of “the dirty dozen,” the 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residues. The nonprofit updated its list by studying 87,000 pesticide tests from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But before you swear off local berries, consider the central San Joaquin Valley’s dry climate, which results in fewer pests than at the coast, Molinar says.

“We just don’t have the pest pressure that the coastal berries do,” he says. “They must spray eight to 10 times, while our farmers might spray one time.”

For those who still prefer organic strawberries, the Valley has several sources:

T&D Willey Farms of Madera plans to sell organic strawberries at Kristina’s Natural Ranch Market at Barstow Avenue and First Street and The Market at Herndon and West avenues. T&D Willey also will include strawberries in its community-supported agriculture program, which sells produce directly from the farm to customers. The harvest isn’t quite ready, so call The Market at (559) 432-3306 and Kristina’s at (559) 224-2222 after a couple of weeks.

Bruno Luconi of the Mokichi Okada Association Oasis Garden in Clovis expects to start harvesting strawberries in the next couple of weeks. He’ll sell organic strawberries on Wednesday mornings at the Kaiser Permanente Fresno farmers market, 7300 N. Fresno St. For more information, call (559) 355-1894.

And Wilgenburg Greenhouses is selling organic strawberries until May 1 at its farm store, 6761 Ave. 416, Dinuba. Hours are Mondays-Fridays 8 a.m.-5 p.m.and Saturdays 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Call (559) 591-0352 for more information.

How to store them

To store berries whole, remove them from the plastic wire baskets and follow this great tip from Emily Green in the Los Angeles Times: Place a layer of paper towels at the bottom of an airtight container. Add a layer of unwashed strawberries. Repeat alternating layers of berries and paper towels until the container is full. Cover with one more layer of paper towels, then seal and store in the refrigerator.

Based on my tests, they’ll keep for about five days.

T&D Willey’s strawberries come in a plastic clamshell, so they can go straight into the refrigerator, denesse Willey says. Eat them within three days.

If you prefer strawberry pieces, rinse them, then chop and stir them gently in a bowl with an airtight lid. Seal the lid on top and store overnight in the refrigerator, says Stacey Grote, operations manager of Simonian Farms. She swears this method also improves strawberries’ flavor.

“The next day they will be sweeter,” she says.

To freeze them, spread the unwashed berries on a sheet tray so they don’t touch each other, then freeze until firm. Transfer to a zipper-lock freezer bag for longer storage. If you don’t have room in the freezer for a sheet tray, simply put the baskets in the freezer, then transfer berries to the plastic bag when solid, Grote says. (Note: If you keep the berries in their baskets, they’ll stick together in clumps.)

To defrost, rinse the frozen berries under cold water, then thaw on the kitchen counter, she adds. They’ll turn soft, so use them in smoothies and other dishes that don’t require beautiful, whole berries.

The sweetest strawberries

Consistent temperatures of 75-85 degrees days will bring the fruit to optimum sweetness. Also look for fruit that’s “ripe all the way to the top,” Willey says. “You don’t want any white to be on the shoulders.”

And a number of farmers advise fishing out the smallest berries.

“Usually, when it’s bigger, it’s not quite sweet,” says Nelson Yang, who sells strawberries from his farm stand on Kings Canyon Road, east of Temperance Avenue. “When it’s smaller, it’s sweeter.”

Local farms selling strawberries: (see Click for site Map of local strawberry stands)

Elm Avenue near Central Avenue, Fresno
Academy and Adams avenues, Fresno
Clovis Avenue, near North Avenue, Fresno
McCall Avenue, 1/4 mile north of Dinuba Avenue, Selma
Conejo Avenue (also known as Sierra Street), 1/2 mile west of Highway 99, Kingsburg
Simonian Farms at Clovis and Jensen avenues, Fresno
Clinton and Marks avenues, Fresno
Mountain View and Academy avenues, Kingsburg
Belmont Avenue near Brawley Avenue, Fresno
Dakota Avenue near Brawley Avenue, Fresno
Manning Avenue, 1/4 mile west of Newmark Avenue, Parlier
Shaw Avenue, 1/4 mile east of Chateau Fresno Avenue, Fresno
Peach Avenue, just south of Herndon Avenue, Clovis
Shepherd Avenue, 1/4 mile east of Minnewawa Avenue, Clovis
Saginaw Avenue and Highway 43, Selma
McCall and Belmont avenues, Sanger
Temperance and Shepherd avenues, Clovis
Willow and Behymer avenues, Clovis
Shaw Avenue, 1/2 mile west of De Wolf Avenue, Clovis
Kings Canyon Road, 1/4 mile east of Temperance Avenue, Fresno
Armstrong Avenue near Olive Avenue, Fresno
Fowler and Floradora avenues, Fresno
Lincoln and West avenues, Fresno
Highway 41, south of Avenue 14, Madera
Manning Avenue, 11/4 mile east of Buttonwillow Avenue, Reedley
Herndon Avenue and Tollhouse Road, Clovis
Shaw Avenue, 1/2 mile east of De Wolf Avenue, Clovis

Strawberry limeade

Makes 1/2 gallon

2 cups strawberry puree (from 1 pound hulled strawberries)

1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 8 limes)

5 cups water

1-11/2 cups sugar, depending on the sweetness of the strawberries Mix all ingredients together in a pitcher. Chill and serve over ice.

— Luz Trigoso, Limón

The reporter can be reached at jobra@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6365. Read her blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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