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10 facts about Florida strawberries that might surprise you

Strawberry Crisp is an easy, baked dessert.


Strawberry Crisp is an easy, baked dessert.


At a farm in late February, Sue Harrell is talking about Florida strawberries, which are thriving right now despite a too-hot start to their season. • Harrell, director of marketing for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, kneels down until she's even with a row of plants dotted with the bright red jewels, picks one off and sinks her teeth into it. • This is the "Sweet Sensation," a variety being tested in the 10-acre Florida Strawberry Research and Education Foundation field behind the association's event center. The goal? To create the perfect strawberry. • Florida is No. 2 in strawberry production behind California, and the 65 growers and more than 10,000 acres that make up the Florida Strawberry Growers Association are responsible for a lot of that produce. March is the fruit's best month, even this season, when a warm December threatened the crop. • Harrell spends her days getting the word out about the state's berries, the majority of which are grown in the Plant City area. She is full of facts about strawberries you likely don't know, her ultimate goal to educate people about the fruit cultivated right here in the Tampa Bay area. • "Strawberries are an impulse buy," Harrell said. "A banana you buy every week. For some reason, strawberries are different. We would love to be the banana." • Here are 10 facts about strawberries, from when they grow to where they go after they are picked, that might surprise you.

1 A handful of strawberries contains more potassium than a banana.

Just eight strawberries contain the daily requirement for vitamin C, and more potassium than a banana. Another fun fact: There are about 200 seeds on a strawberry. Since they're on the outside, strawberries are an outlier in the berry family, and technically not even considered a berry, which typically has seeds on the inside.

2 Color isn't everything.

Redder strawberries do not necessarily mean sweeter strawberries. Harrell said that as long as the berry is fully colored, it's ripe and ready to eat.

"Consumers need to be on the look-out for shiny berries. And the green top, which is called a calyx, it needs to look fresh, too," Harrell said.

3 Not all berries are the same.

There are many different varieties cultivated in the association's test fields, including the Winterstar and Radiant. The Sweet Sensation berry that Harrell tasted is currently being held up as a model berry, and a benchmark going forward. The goal is to identify positive attributes — like appearance, taste and ability to withstand certain weather conditions — and work them into future varieties to create the best berry possible. Harrell said this variety isn't perfect, but it's a step in the right direction.

"The Sweet Sensation has the color, it has the shape, it travels well," she said. "This is like a four-bite strawberry. And when you take a bite, it's going to be sweet, even if it's not super red."

4 Florida strawberries grow in the winter.

The growing season runs from about Thanksgiving to Easter (typically the end of March). Planting begins in October, and harvesting begins in mid-November. Harrell said most people are surprised to learn it's during winter, but Florida's moderate temperatures provide an ideal climate.

This season has been a bit funky. Because it was so warm in December, a lot of fruit came in early, then stopped growing for a while.

"There was a large gap — two to three weeks of the plant sitting there without producing," Harrell said.

Now, the plants are producing like normal. March is usually the best month for Florida strawberries, and the point at which they're most affordable to consumers.

"At this point in the season, there is no shortage. They're picking a lot of berries right now."

5 Most of our berries leave the state.

For the most part, strawberries picked on commercial farms in the Tampa Bay area are sold to supermarkets, as opposed to local markets. Even more leave the state.

"Most of our fruit travels up the East Coast to those markets," Harrell said. "We used to say 80 percent but now it's like 70 percent, because we do have large retailers here that handle a lot of our fruit."

6 Berries are picked right into their plastic containers.

When Florida strawberries are picked, they go right into the plastic clamshell container in which they are sold. After being picked, they're taken to a cooling facility, because, as Harrell said, "strawberries and heat don't mix." But they're not handled much beyond that before you buy them, which reduces the risk of food-borne illness.

7 Strawberries have a fast turnaround.

When you see Florida strawberries in the grocery store, chances are they are pretty fresh. Strawberries usually have to be sold the same day they get to the store. And often, berries are shipped out from the farms the same day they are picked, Harrell said. That means a turnaround of about four days, from their farm to your cart.

8 Leave berries whole and unwashed when storing them at home.

The best way to keep your strawberries from spoiling quickly is to leave them unwashed when you first bring them home. Harrell said the ideal storage vessel is in fact their plastic container, because it is well ventilated, so your best bet is to leave them in there. Pop them in the fridge, because heat and humidity causes them to go bad quicker. And wash them just before you're ready to eat them.

9 The plants produce a lot.

One strawberry plant can be picked about 50 to 60 times a season, or about once every three days. It takes about 35 to 40 days for a bloom to turn into a berry. How do the plants constantly produce so much fruit? All of the blooms on the plants are in different stages. So when one red berry is picked, there are a couple of buds next to it that will be ready in a few weeks.

10 Prices, not fruit supply, determine the end of the season.

Many times, it's not for lack of fruit that local farms stop selling their berries to supermarkets. Harrell said many fields end up with leftover fruit that can't be sold because it's no longer marketable.

"If the market price falls below harvest cost, we have to stop picking. It's not because the plants run out of fruit. They'll continue to produce," Harrell said. This usually happens later this month, when we get warmer weather and more rain. That's when the California berries start to populate local stores.

When this happens, many local fields will open their doors to the public and the fields become "U-Pick," meaning anyone can go and pick berries directly from the plants. Harrell said there often isn't much advance warning, so when farms become available for U-Pick, it's best to go as soon as possible. Plants blooming now will yield berries at the end of March.

Recipes for web

Florida Strawberry Festival

The festival runs through Sunday at the Florida Strawberry Festival Fairgrounds, 303 N Lemon St., Plant City.


Florida Strawberry and Spicy Citrus Shrimp Salad


  • 15 jumbo fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons jerk seasoning
  • 20 large fresh strawberries, quartered and divided
  • 2 cups fresh baby arugula or spring mix
  • 2 navel oranges, sectioned (about 1 cup)
  • For the dressing:
  • ½ cup peeled, pitted and chopped avocado
  • ¼ cup plain yogurt
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper


  1. Spray grill rack with cooking spray. Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Sprinkle shrimp with jerk seasoning. Grill, covered, until pink and firm, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Set aside to let cool.
  2. Make a dressing: In the container of a blender, combine avocado, ½ cup strawberries, yogurt, lime juice, garlic, honey, salt and pepper; process until smooth.
  3. Place remaining strawberries in a medium bowl. Add arugula and orange sections, tossing gently to combine. Divide among 3 salad plates. Arrange shrimp over salad. Serve with dressing. Serves 3.
Source: Florida Strawberries: A Taste of Summer All Winter Long (Hoffman Media, 2016)


Strawberry and Mascarpone Crepes


  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 (8-ounce) container mascarpone cheese, softened
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced
  • Sliced strawberries, honey and confectioners' sugar, for garnish


  1. In the container of a blender, combine milk, flour, eggs, butter, sugar and salt; process until smooth. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spoon about 3 tablespoons batter into the pan, swirling pan to thinly coast. Cook until light golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Gently remove from pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, beat mascarpone cheese, cream cheese and confectioners' sugar with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Spoon about 3 tablespoons mixture down center of each crepe. Top with sliced strawberries. Fold edges of crepe over to enclose filling. Garnish with strawberries, honey and confectioners' sugar. Makes 15.
Source: Florida Strawberries: A Taste of Summer All Winter Long (Hoffman Media, 2016)


Strawberry Crisp


  • For the filling:
  • 3 pounds fresh strawberries, halved
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter, cubed
  • For the topping:
  • ¾ cup old-fashioned oats
  • ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup finely chopped pecans
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup butter, softened


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 3-quart shallow baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Make the filling: In a large bowl, gently stir together strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest and juice, and salt. Spoon into prepared pan. Sprinkle butter over filling.
  3. Make the topping: In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour, pecans, sugar, brown sugar and salt. Add butter, combining with fingertips until crumbly. Sprinkle topping over filling.
  4. Bake until topping is golden brown and filling is bubbly, about 45 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Source: Florida Strawberries: A Taste of Summer All Winter Long (Hoffman Media, 2016)


Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes


  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup whole buttermilk
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cups chopped fresh strawberries
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • ⅔ cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • Fresh mint, for garnish


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar with a mixer at medium speed until fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  3. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture, beating just until combined after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
  4. Bake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 17 to 19 minutes. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans, and let cool completely on wire racks.
  5. In a small bowl, combine strawberries, lemon juice and remaining 2 teaspoons sugar. Let stand for 30 minutes.
  6. In a medium bowl, beat cream with a mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add confectioners' sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold in sour cream.
  7. Holding a knife with the tip at a downward angle, cut around tops of cupcakes, leaving a ¼-inch border. Remove cupcake tops; set aside. Fill centers of cupcakes with 1 tablespoon whipped cream mixture; top with strawberries. Replace cupcake tops. Garnish with fresh mint if desired. Makes 18.
Source: Florida Strawberries: A Taste of Summer All Winter Long (Hoffman Media, 2016)

10 facts about Florida strawberries that might surprise you 03/07/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 3:25pm]
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