The strawberries are here! If you’re like me, you probably look forward to the first Quebec strawberries and herald their appearance as the start of the summer season. Fresh strawberries are possibly one of the most versatile fruits out there: You can eat them fresh, dip them in chocolate, use them in salad, add them to drinks, cook them into a coulis, bake them in pies, cookies, muffins or cakes, or freeze them whole for a cool summer-day treat. The list is endless.
There are over 600 varieties of strawberries world-wide, and strawberry plants are native to both Europe and the Americas. When buying strawberries look for bright-red, vibrant fruit. Before storing, pick through them to remove any strawberries that are bruised or damaged since they will quickly rot and contaminate the other berries in your basket. Do not hull them before storing.
Washing conventionally-farmed strawberries is important because they tend to be high in pesticide residue. (They are #3 in the dirty dozen!) Wash them in gentle running water. Don’t soak them since they absorb water easily and quickly lose their flavour. Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, a good source of potassium, and a source of folic acid, vitamin B5 and magnesium. They are also a laxative when consumed in large quantities.
Fresh strawberries should be available at markets and supermarkets across Quebec. If you would rather pick your own, the association des producteurs des fraises et framboises du Québec has a searchable database listing over 120 U-Pick farms on its consumer site, les fraîches du Québec. Unfortunately only three use organic farming methods and they are all in the Lac St-Jean and North Shore. (I find it hard to believe that they’re the only ones that exist though.) You can also search the database for roadside kiosks. The season will probably only last another week or so, so hurry!
A quick note on strawberries and pesticides: I have no idea if conventionally-farmed strawberries from Quebec are any better or worse than those from the USA or elsewhere. I don’t have any reason to believe that we use less pesticides in Quebec than the USA. What I did manage to glean is that many of the less-toxic pesticides used by American strawberry producers appear to be unavailable in Canada according to a report put out in 2006 by the fédération des producteurs maraîchers du Québec. The report also said that some Quebec farms do not always leave enough time between spraying and picking. Apparently part of the pressure to use pesticides and fertilizers is coming from consumers who want perfect-looking little fruits