Agri Leader

5 ways to use your strawberries

This is Florida strawberry season's high time, and you can see it all around with super deals on strawberries at the supermarket and great buys at local farm stands.

If you have extra strawberries in your kitchen thanks to all those special sales, then you may be wondering what to do with them.

I was driving through Plant City - aka The Winter Strawberry Capital - and I stopped off at a popular farm stand right off the interstate. They had some strawberries in the traditional clam shell packaging, but they were a pale blush (literally) in comparison to some of the reddest berries I'd ever seen - 12 pounds on sale for $8. I considered buying the smaller package but couldn't bring myself to do it when I saw the quality of the redder, riper berries. Mind you, the smaller package was also from a local source, but I'm guessing the large flat was at its peak of ripeness.

Once I got the flat in my car, it was like bringing home a newborn baby, albeit even a few pounds heavier. All I could think is, "What in tarnation am I going to do with 12 pounds of strawberries?" My strawberry crisis was exacerbated by the fruit's short shelf life. You need to usually enjoy strawberries within a couple of days before they get soft on you.

Now, a few days wiser, I can give you some advice on what to do if you find yourself in my situation - too many beautiful berries and not enough hours in the day to enjoy them all.

1. Give some away. I immediately gave a couple of small baskets to my mom, who said she was going to enjoy them with whipped cream. I then decided to give a small basket to each of my son's teachers, one of whom I've heard enjoys strawberries with honey (there's another way you can use your berries). Giving the fruit away will make you feel good for sharing a local, healthy treat.

2. Make some strawberry pie. Yes, you can make shortcake. In fact, the farm market where I got my berries specializes in produce sales but had cleverly added shortcake packages to their product mix. However, why not try strawberry pie, which is almost as easy but not as well known? You can find a recipe online or in larger cookbooks, but basically all you'll need is pie crust, several cups of berries, sugar, cornstarch, and whipped cream. My son and I both had two pieces each after it was ready - they counted toward our fruit servings for the day, right?

3. Use 'em in smoothies or milkshakes. Smoothies are all the rage nowadays as an easy way to work more fruits and veggies into your daily nutrition. The day after I bought my berries, I made a smoothie with almond milk, almonds, strawberries, and kale. In retrospect, it needed a little honey and ice, but it was otherwise a healthy addition to my day. If you're going more for the dessert route, use the berries for a milkshake.

4. Freeze your excess strawberries. There are apparently different ways to freeze strawberries (so many choices in life!). I opted for the easiest way, which involves hulling the berries - a fancy way to say cut off the green stems-sprinkling them with a little sugar, and then spreading them out on a cookie sheet while they freeze. Once frozen, place them in freezer bags and use them for smoothies or other goodies. The sugar apparently helps to preserve them.

5. Use them to make jelly. Although I didn't try this idea myself, I've done it before with other produce items. It's also relatively simple once you get the hang of it, involving only a handful of ingredients.

I contacted the Florida Strawberry Growers Association for more ideas on using excess strawberries, and they referred me to ideas on their website from marketing director Sue Harrell, also known as "Strawberry Sue." On the site, Sue can fill you in on ideas like strawberry popsicles, ice cream, sorbet, and - ay mama! - strawberry jalapeņo margaritas.