Way back in Florida's freezing days we worried about the strawberries. Would the sweet berry that made Plant City famous survive unseasonably cold temperatures?
The crop struggled in February, but the season is hanging on longer than usual, flourishing in more typical Sunshine State weather. The result of that is hard-to-resist low prices. Try 4 quarts for $5 at Publix; most recently they were two for $4. Plus, several U-pick fields are still open for business, providing flats of berries perfect for home canning or gobbling like bonbons.
But they won't be cheap for much longer. Sue Harrell, director of marketing for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association in Plant City, expects the season to wind down in a couple of weeks. When the supply switches to California berries, the price will rise, says Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten. Last year, at the beginning of the West Coast season, berries were more than $3 a quart, she said.
In the meantime, if you're one of the berry-crazed shoppers with a fridge full of fruit, you may be wondering what to do with the bounty. Or at least what else you can do after you've served strawberry shortcake on Easter and piled sweet slices on cereal every day last week.
Consider the following 25 ideas, not all of which are strictly food. You just may have to head to the fields or the store for more.
1. Freeze strawberries for later. Place berries in single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until solid. Once frozen, transfer to an air-tight plastic bag or container.
2. Freeze the berries in ice cubes for drinks. (See? You still need an ice-cube tray.)
3. Make daiquiris, virgin or loaded.
4. Put up some jam. (Crush 2 pounds fresh strawberries until you have 4 cups. In a heavy-bottom pan, mix berries, 4 cups sugar and 1/4 cup lemon juice. Stir over heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil until mixture reaches 220 degrees. If you're canning, follow instructions that come with jars. If not, refrigerate in a covered container and eat right away. Give some to the neighbors, too.)
5. Soak sliced berries in orange juice or Grand Marnier for sauce to drape over ice cream, pound cake or store-bought cheesecake.
6. Make a strawberry facial mask: Mash 8 to 9 strawberries, add 3 tablespoons honey. Mix well. Apply directly to the skin, let sit for a few minutes, then rinse off.
7. Slice berries in a salad of baby spinach leaves, feta crumbles and balsamic vinaigrette.
8. Chocolate-dipped strawberries. (Look for melting chocolate near strawberries.)
9. Fold diced strawberries into plain yogurt.
10. Let vanilla ice cream go soft and mix in diced berries. Refreeze.
11. Load a bowl with sliced berries, sprinkle with sugar and dollop with sour cream (or whipped cream).
12. Dot halves with really good balsamic vinegar.
13. Prepare a salad of strawberries and other berries dressed with Greek yogurt.
14. Homemade strawberry foot scrub: Mash 8 to 10 berries in a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons of almond oil, 1 teaspoon each of vitamin E oil and sea salt into a thick paste. Massage scrub into your feet to remove dead, dry skin. Rinse with warm water.
15. Pile strawberries on waffles with whipped cream.
16. Plop a berry into a flute of champagne.
17. Make a smoothie with ripe bananas.
18. Roll sliced strawberries in crepes, drizzle with chocolate. Top with spoonful of whipped cream, of course.
19. Add to muffin or quick bread batter.
20. Bake your grandmother's strawberry pie (see accompanying recipe if she didn't have one).
21. Dip in mascarpone or cream cheese that's been mixed with honey.
22. Another dip: brown sugar and sour cream.
23. Add strawberry halves to spinach sauteed in olive oil when the greens are almost done.
24. Stir up a strawberry salsa for grilled fish by mixing diced berries with equal cuts of red onion, jalapeno and red bell pepper. Mix in chopped fresh, cilantro, some fresh orange juice and lime juice plus a bit of extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
25. Make iced strawberry tea: Puree 1 pint fresh strawberries in a blender; strain into pitcher. Stir in 4 cups cold iced tea, 1/3 cup sugar and 1/4 cup lemon juice until sugar dissolves. Serve over ice with strawberry garnish.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 821-3161.