Strawberries, one of the San Joaquin Valley's favorite springtime fruits, have arrived. Plump, sweet and juicy berries are being harvested and sold at area roadside stands.
Although picking has been light as farmers search for the best berries, warmer and drier weather will quickly get the season going.
The season is about two weeks early, thanks to a relatively dry and warm winter.
"We have a few stands open already and in about a week everyone will be harvesting," says Michael Yang, an agriculture assistant with the University of California Cooperative Extension. "And once they are, you will find berries everywhere."
Many Valley farmers grow the Chandler variety, a strawberry known for its sweet taste but with a limited shelf life. Others produce the Albion, a sturdier variety, that can tolerate the Valley's warm temperatures. Some farmers will start with the Chandler and harvest the Albion later in the season.
And unlike large-scale growers from the Central Coast who produce strawberries for the grocery stores, the Valley's strawberry growers are small operators, who sell their fruit at rustic roadside stands.
There are 19 locations that sell local and organic strawberries in Fresno County (see map, Page D2).
Kristi G. Johnson, senior economic development analyst for Fresno County's Community Development Division, says the roadside stands are part of a growing effort to promote the region's fruit and vegetable producers that sell directly to the public.
Every year, the county puts together a map listing the region's fruit stands, restaurants and strawberry stands. You can find the map at: www.gofruittrail.com. There is also a Google map at www.fresnobee.com/life.
2 1/2 cups (about 3/4 pound) fresh California strawberries, stemmed and quartered
1/2 pound jicama, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon minced jalapeño peppers
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 pound avocados, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
6 (6-inch) yellow corn tortillas
6 tablespoons crumbled queso fresco
6 cilantro sprigs
1 lime, cut into 6 wedges
Heat oven to 400 degrees. In large bowl, mix together strawberries, jicama, cilantro, peppers and lime juice. Add avocados; fold together gently. Season with salt.
Arrange tortillas on oven rack in one layer. Toast about 10 minutes or until crisp and starting to brown.
Mound 1 cup strawberry mixture in center of each tortilla. Sprinkle each tostada with chili powder and 1 tablespoon queso fresco.
Garnish with 1 cilantro sprig and 1 lime wedge.
Balsamic chicken and California strawberry panini
4 slices sourdough bread
2 teaspoons butter
1/2 cup fresh baby spinach leaves
6 ounces cooked, sliced chicken
4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup sliced California strawberries
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
1/4 cup mashed avocado
Spread butter on the outsides of the bread. Layer spinach onto two slices of bread (non-buttered side). Top with sliced chicken. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Add strawberries and mozzarella.
Spread avocado on non-buttered side of remaining slices of bread. Place on top of sandwiches, avocado side in.
Place on panini press or grill pan and cook until the outsides are golden brown and the cheese is melted.
Strawberry and goat cheese pizza
1/2 ounce active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
3-4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup (4 ounces) softened goat cheese
4 cups fresh California strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/4 cup (2 ounces) crumbled goat cheese
Coarsely ground black pepper
Baby arugula and frisée
To make pizza dough, in a mixer bowl, sprinkle yeast and sugar over 1 cup warm water; let stand until foamy. Add 3 cups of the flour, the salt and olive oil; mix with dough hook until stretchy and no longer sticky, adding more flour if necessary. Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Refrigerate, covered, until needed.
To make white balsamic vinaigrette, in a small nonreactive saucepan, simmer white balsamic vinegar until reduced to 11/2 tablespoons. Whisk in extra virgin olive oil.
To make aged balsamic reduction, in a small nonreactive saucepan, simmer aged balsamic vinegar until reduced to about 4 teaspoons.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. On lightly floured surface, roll each piece of pizza dough into an 8-inch circle. Place on a baking sheet; bake in 400-degree oven 10 minutes or until firm and slightly brown.
Spread pizzas with softened goat cheese, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Toss strawberries with white balsamic vinaigrette; arrange strawberries evenly on goat cheese.
Bake 10 minutes more. Remove from oven; scatter crumbled goat cheese on top. Drizzle with aged balsamic reduction; sprinkle with black pepper.
Garnish pizzas with a few leaves of arugula and frisée.
View Fresh strawberries in a larger map