Put your Florida strawberries to good use in these five recipes

We’re in peak strawberry season.
Published March 6

How sweet it is to be in the thick of strawberry season.

The Florida Strawberry Festival runs through this weekend in Plant City, and grocery stores are stocked with the fragrant rubies.

Amber Maloney, director of marketing for Plant City’s Wish Farms, which specializes in berries, said the Sunshine State’s strawberry season typically runs from around Thanksgiving through Easter. And while this year’s crop was a little light early on, Maloney said, it’s shaping up to be a robust season.

Keep an eye out for two notable strawberry varieties this year: the Florida Brilliance, which will be even more abundant during next year’s season, and the Sweet Sensation, a newer variety that is usually lighter in color, more like a pinkish red. It’s very sweet, and plump, really a model strawberry.

“That’s our personal favorite,” Maloney said.

Lots of places in the Plant City area host U-Pick events this time of year, where the public can come and pick strawberries straight from the source. There’s one at Wish Farms on Saturday. (See wishfarms.com for more dates and information.)

If you’re buying your berries from the grocery store, Maloney has some tips.

“Always try to purchase berries that are displayed in a refrigerated case,” she said. “Berries are very perishable. They’re picked, then sent to the store in a refrigerated truck. As soon as that cold chain is broken, the berries break down quicker.”

Store them in the fridge when you get home. Don’t wash all your berries at once, but rather just before you eat them. Use cool water. Washing them too far in advance can cause them to spoil.

“Now is a great time to stock up on Florida berries and freeze them,” Maloney said.

Rinse under cold water, cut the tops off, pat the berries dry then place on a cookie sheet and freeze until frozen. Then, transfer to a zip-top bag. They should keep for up to a year.

“It’s a great way to keep Florida strawberries on hand well into the summer,” Maloney said.

If you have a couple of pints to use up now, you can’t go wrong with the following recipes.

Contact Michelle Stark at mstark@tampabay.com. Follow @mstark17.

Strawberry Oatmeal Bars

For the bars:

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

¾ cup white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour

⅓ cup light brown sugar

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (or coconut oil to make it vegan)

2 cups small-diced strawberries

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, from about ½ small lemon

1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided

For the vanilla glaze (optional):

½ cup powdered sugar, sifted

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon milk (any kind you like)

Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Line an 8- by 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper so that the paper overhangs two sides like handles.

In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar and salt. Pour in the melted butter and stir until it forms clumps and the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Set aside ½ cup of the crumble mixture, then press the rest into an even layer in the bottom of the prepared pan.

Scatter half of the strawberries over the crust. Sprinkle the cornstarch evenly over the top, then sprinkle on the lemon juice and ½ tablespoon of the granulated sugar. Scatter on the remaining berries, then the remaining ½ tablespoon sugar. Sprinkle the reserved crumbs evenly over the top. You will have some fruit showing through.

Bake the bars for 35 to 40 minutes, until the fruit is bubbly and the crumb topping smells toasty and looks golden. Place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely. (You can speed this process along in the refrigerator.)

While the bars cool, prepare the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, vanilla and milk until smooth. Feel free to add more milk if a thinner consistency is desired. Using the parchment-paper handles, lift the bars from the pan. Drizzle with glaze, slice and serve.

Makes 16 bars.

Source: Adapted from wellplated.com

Buttermilk Strawberry Milkshake

I was a little skeptical about this recipe when I first tried it, but the sweetness of the strawberries pairs wonderfully with nutty tahini and tangy buttermilk. If you don’t have buttermilk, simply mix 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, let it sit for 5 minutes, then use.

1 pound strawberries, hulled, halved

3 tablespoons raw sugar

Kosher salt

1 frozen banana

½ cup buttermilk

3 tablespoons tahini

Crushed toasted sesame seeds (for serving; optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss strawberries with sugar and a pinch of salt on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Let sit, tossing occasionally, until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Roast, tossing halfway through, until strawberries are soft and release their juices, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool.

Transfer three-quarters of strawberries to a blender. Add banana, buttermilk, tahini and 1 cup ice; blend until smooth. Using a metal spoon, smash remaining strawberries to a jammy consistency.

Divide smoothies and strawberries among glasses and top with sesame seeds, if using.

Serves 2.

Source: Adapted from Bon Appétit

Strawberry Vinegar

For a simple salad dressing, pair equal parts of this vinegar and olive oil, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

1 pound strawberries, hulled, quartered

1 cup white wine vinegar

½ cup unseasoned rice vinegar

¼ cup sugar

2 sheets of cheesecloth or a coffee filter

Combine strawberries, white wine vinegar, rice vinegar and sugar in a large glass jar. Cover and chill at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours.

Strain mixture through a sieve lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter into a clean glass jar or other airtight container. Cover and chill.

Strawberry vinegar can be made 3 months ahead. Keep chilled.

Source: Adapted from Bon Appétit

Strawberry Basil Shortcakes

For the shortcakes:

¼ cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 cup heavy cream

1 large egg, beaten to blend

For the berries and assembly:

1 ½ pound fresh strawberries, hulled, quartered (about 3 cups), divided

4 tablespoons sugar, divided

2 sprigs basil

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt

Make the shortcakes: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk sugar, baking powder, salt and 2 cups flour in a large bowl. Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, work in butter until you have the texture of coarse meal with a few pea-sized pieces of butter remaining. Add cream and mix until dough just comes together. (It will be sticky.)

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a 12- by 4-inch rectangle about ¾ inch thick. Cut out rounds with a 2 ½-inch biscuit cutter, re-rolling scraps as needed to make 8 rounds. Whisk egg with 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Transfer rounds to a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush tops with egg wash. Bake until tops are golden brown and shortcakes are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.

Make the berries and assemble: Coarsely chop 2 cups strawberries (use any bruised or less perfect ones) and cook with 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until berries are softened and mixture is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Let berry compote cool.

Meanwhile, toss basil, 1 tablespoon sugar and remaining 1 cup strawberries in a medium bowl and let sit until fruit begins to release juices, 10 to 15 minutes. Discard basil.

Using an electric mixer, beat cream, yogurt and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar to soft peaks, about 4 minutes.

Split shortcakes and fill with berry compote, whipped cream mixture and macerated strawberries.

Serves 8.

Source: Adapted from Bon Appétit

Strawberry Collins

This Tom Collins cocktail gets an added oomph — and a dose of vibrant color — from the addition of strawberries.

¾ ounce simple syrup

2 whole strawberries

¾ ounce lemon juice

2 ounces gin

Soda water

Lemon wedge, for garnish

Strawberry, for garnish

Fresh mint, for garnish

Muddle simple syrup and strawberries in a cocktail shaker, pressing down on the strawberries to mash them a bit. Add lemon juice and gin, then fill shaker with ice and shake for 10 to 15 seconds.

Strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Top with soda water. Garnish with lemon wheel, a strawberry slice and fresh mint.

Serves 1.

Source: Michelle Stark, Tampa Bay Times