TALLAHASSEE – For weeks, unusually cold winter temperatures delayed Florida’s strawberry harvest, leaving grocery shelves empty. But now, finally, good news: The strawberries are ripening, and they’re even sweeter than usual.
“Abnormally cool temperatures delayed maturation of the berries,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson. “Strawberries stayed on the plants longer, so they had more time to produce sugar. The result is the sweetest strawberries we’ve seen in a very long time.”
Shoppers can expect an abundance of extra-sweet Florida strawberries to be available now and in the upcoming weeks. The harvest will continue through early April and should reach its peak in the middle of this month.
“Now is the time to celebrate the harvest and enjoy Florida strawberries at the height of season,” Bronson said. “These berries couldn’t be fresher, because they’re being picked right now, right here in Florida.”
Bronson offered the following strawberry-buying tips for shoppers:
* Shop with your nose. Ripe strawberries are sweetly fragrant.
* Look for strawberries that are fully and deeply red. Be sure the color has spread from one end of the berry to the other. Don’t choose a berry with white or green spots in hopes it will ripen up on your windowsill; strawberries stop ripening as soon as they are picked.
* If you can touch the berries, check to see that they are firm but not hard.
* The calyx, the strawberry’s leafy cap, should be fresh and green.
* Avoid moldy berries and berries in wet, stained containers. Soft, mushy berries are overripe.
During the 2008-2009 season, Florida produced over $300 million in strawberries between December and April, accounting for nearly 240 million pints of fresh berries. Hillsborough County in west-central Florida is the hub of state’s strawberry production. The county produces approximately 15 percent of the nation’s strawberries — about 18 million flats per year — and virtually all the berries grown during the winter.
Bronson hopes consumers will take advantage of this year’s extended Florida strawberry season and try America’s favorite berry in some new recipes. “Strawberries are versatile and taste great tossed in spring salads, blended in smoothies, or even mixed into salsa,” he said. “Florida strawberries are in stores in abundance. Prices are great, and now is the time to enjoy these sweet, nutritious treats at their very best.”