Christopher DeStefano: Strawberries are a sweet, nutritious package

Christopher DeStefano

The arrival of June brings a wonderful summer to-do list: Time to get our backyard gardens in order, dust off the old gas grill and dig out last year’s bathing suit with fingers crossed that it still fits.

But nothing says the beginning of summer quite like the first crop of fresh strawberries from Marini Farm. Ever since moving to Ipswich, Mass., nine years ago, I look forward to making my pilgrimage every June to see my pal, Mike, and pick up some of the juiciest little strawberries I have ever tasted.

And, clearly, I am not alone because strawberries are the world’s most popular berry fruit, with the U.S. being the largest producer.

There are plenty of ways to celebrate with your strawberries. These jewels of summer can be grilled, chopped, pied, jammed, blended, sauced, jellied or just eaten right out of the carton. Most people think about canning or baking with strawberries, but adding them to a skewer, giving them a quick brush with aged balsamic vinegar and grilling them makes a wonderful snack or addition to a summer salad.

Tossed with some honey and toasted pecans as a topping for pancakes is a favorite on Sunday mornings in my house. Paired with fresh spinach and goat cheese is another heavenly combination. There really is no dearth of ways to relish these succulent berries, and that’s a good thing because not only are they delicious and beautiful to look at, but they are also a nutritional powerhouse.

These ruby-red berries actually contain more vitamin C than most citrus fruits, are loaded with potassium, fiber, folate and are chock-full of antioxidants. One of those antioxidants is called quercetin. This little gem helps to combat allergies, and can keep “bad” cholesterol from oxidizing and damaging artery walls. Strawberries also contain ellagic acid, which has been shown to reduce the incidence of cancer in cultured human cells exposed to carcinogens.

So, in one pretty little package, you can boost your immune function, fight allergies, protect your heart and maybe even prevent cancer — all for a measly 55 calories per cup. That’s something you can feel good about snacking on.

The arrival of fresh strawberries, whether it is at a local farm, your local farmers market or even your own backyard, is yet another reason to relish eating local, seasonal ingredients. There is something about savoring strawberries in June that just tastes better than any other time of year.

So do yourself a favor and go pick up a pint of fresh, local strawberries, kick off your shoes, close your eyes and take a bite.

Summer never tasted so sweet.

Christopher DeStefano is a professional chef and owner of Christopher’s Table, a specialty food shop in downtown Ipswich, Mass.

Easy Strawberry Jam

  • 3 pints of fresh, local strawberries
  • 3 cups of superfine sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange flavored liqueur
  • ½ Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and small diced
  • ½ cup fresh blueberries

Place strawberries in a colander, and rinse well. Drain and hull strawberries. Cut the larger berries in half and quarters, and leave the smaller berries whole. Place the berries in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot, and toss them with the sugar and Grand Marnier.

Bring the berry mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Add the apple and blueberries, and continue to keep the mixture at a rolling boil, stirring occasionally until the jam reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer. This should take 25-30 minutes. Skim and discard any foam that rises to the top. Allow the mixture to cool, and then store covered in the refrigerator. It will keep refrigerated for at least 2 weeks.