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BONNIE'S GARDEN--Strawberry Shortcake

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the fresh local strawberries that are showing up at the Farmers Market.  My mother made strawberry shortcake using angel food cake, while my grandmother made shortcake using her home-made pound cake.  And they both used real whipped cream to top them off.  I never had one of those little sponge-cake nests that you buy at the grocery store or the whipped cream in a can until I was grown.  I still have a soft spot for either angel food cake or pound cake with my strawberries.

Strawberries are native to temperate zones in North and South America, Europe and Asia.  Because of their small size, they were not an important food crop until an accidental crossing of the Virginia strawberry (fragaria virginiana) with the Chilean strawberry (f. chiloensis) produce a much larger berry than either parent.  They were one of the first fruits cultivated in the new world by native Americans who mashed them and mixed them with cornmeal to make a kind of strawberry bread.  The Iroquois even held a festival every year in honor of strawberries.

Strawberries are cousins to roses, along with apples, pears, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries, raspberries, almonds, even photinia, pyracantha and hawthorns.  They are not technically a berry but rather a complex fruit.

To grow your own strawberries, pick a sunny spot and enrich your soil with the addition of compost. Set out plants 20” apart in rows spaced 4 feet apart.  Do not plant where members of the tomato family were grown the year before as certain tomato diseases can affect strawberries.  Strawberry plants produce about three years before they begin to produce fewer and fewer fruit so you can take the runners they produce and cultivate them to replace the mother plants or you can simply buy new “sets”—they are usually available in March and are very inexpensive.  Strawberries prefer a pH neutral to slightly acidic soil so you may want to have your soil tested.  Be sure to keep weeded because they hate competing for nutrients.  Mulching with straw or pine tags will help keep weeds down.

For the best production, you should pick off all flowers and runners the first year so the plants put more energy into growing a bigger root system—thus giving you more fruit the second year.  Yeah, I know—really hard to do but it’s worth it in the long run.  The second year, you’ll probably want to invest in a row cover so the birds don’t get there before you do.  In late summer, mow the patch to a 4” height and mulch with more straw or pine tags for the winter.

Me?  Well, because of my small yard with limited sunny patches,I tuck a few plants into a strawberry jar (the one with the holes down the sides) so I can get enough for a burst of flavor every now and then.  The rest I just get  from the Farmers’ Market here every Thursday from 10 until 2 in the parking lot of The Great Big Greenhouse

Strawberries are very low in saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium, and calories.  They are a good source of manganese, potassium, folates and an outstanding source of vitamin C and fiber.  Just eight strawberries have as much vitamin C as does an orange.  I don’t know about you, but when they are fresh and in season, I can eat way more than eight—and I don’t even think about how nutritious they are because I’m too busy thinking about how delicious they are.  Aren’t we lucky that they are fresh and in season right now?

Posted: 5/26/2014 by Bonnie Pega | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: BonniePega, Bonnie'sGarden
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