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Scent of summer

Flavour, goodness of strawberries has been recognized for ages

This week local strawberries have been ripe for picking. If you have been able to get to Pemberton to pick for yourself you may have noticed the heady perfume of warm berries as you stepped from the car. For me, this is the true smell of summer. Indeed, this intense aroma is the best indicator of quality when picking or buying strawberries.

Strawberries were first cultivated in the 13th century. At that time there were only five or six varieties. As their popularity grew, energetic cross breeding of different plants in the 19th century have resulted in over 600 varieties, which are constantly being added to. The larger berries that we take for granted today are a result of careful cross breeding between an American and Canadian variety, the scarlet Virginia strawberry ( Fragaria virginiana ) and a juicy sweet variety from Chile ( Fragaria chiloensis).

Ancient Romans, as well as the alchemists of the Middle Ages, attributed universal healing properties to the strawberry. Chock full of vitamin C and a healthy dose of potassium and other minerals it is easy to understand why.

When picking strawberries try to pick in the early morning or later in the afternoon, when the fruit is cool. They are best used within two-three days of picking. Cover and store unwashed in the fridge.

When buying strawberries they should be bright red and firm with bright green leaves. They should not have any white near the top as this indicates they have been picked before they are ripe and, unlike other fruits, they will not ripen after being picked.

To freeze whole strawberries gently wash in ice water before hulling (taking the green leaves off the top of the berry). Allow berries to air-dry then place side by side on flat baking trays. Pop them in the freezer until completely frozen. Remove berries from the tray to heavy freezer bags. Remove as much air as possible from the bags before returning them to the freezer. The strawberries will keep for up to a year.

Because the berries have been individually frozen you can use as many or as few berries as you would like at a time. Use them as ice cubes in fancy drinks, pop them in the blender with banana and yogurt for a quick smoothie, or toss them into a bowl of cereal.

Things to do with strawberries:

• toss with avocado, spring greens and a balsamic vinaigrette with lots of freshly ground pepper for a delicious salad. The spicy black pepper really brings out the sweetness of strawberries;

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