Sixteenth-century author William Butler wrote this tribute to the strawberry: "Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did." Red, juicy and conically shaped, the strawberry is a member of the rose family and has grown wild for centuries in both the Americas and Europe. The Romans valued the fruit for its reputed therapeutic powers for everything from loose teeth to gastritis. However, it wasn't until the late 13th century that the plant was first cultivated. The most common American variety is the result of several centuries of crossbreeding of the wild Virginia strawberry (North America's main native strawberry) and a Chilean variety. It's probably today's most hardy berry and is able to withstand both shipping and storage. More flavorful, however, are European Alpine strawberries — the tiny, exquisitely sweet wild strawberries of France known as fraises des bois ("strawberries of the woods"). They're considered by many to be the "queen of strawberries." Strawberries vary in size, shape and color (some are off-white or yellowish). In general, the flavor of the smaller berries is better than that of the larger varieties since the latter are often watery. Fresh strawberries are available year-round in many regions of the country, with the peak season from April to September, again depending on the locale. Choose brightly colored, plump berries that still have their green caps attached and which are uniform in size. Avoid soft, shriveled or moldy berries. Do not wash until ready to use, and store (preferably in a single layer on a paper towel) in a moistureproof container in the refrigerator for two to three days. Fresh strawberries are wonderful eaten with cream, macerated in wine or liqueur or used in various desserts. Canned and frozen strawberries are also available. Commercial strawberry products include preserves, jams, jellies, syrups and various desserts. Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and also provide some potassium and iron.

From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

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