Time to eat local. Strawberries are in their prime. So dig in and enjoy!
Despite hard rains at the beginning of the season, strawberries in the Carolinas, are tasting great. The season really started in April, but is still going strong. Look for the popular local early summer crop to be available at farm stands and farmers markets through the Memorial Day Holiday and on into mid June.
North Carolina is the fourth-largest producer of strawberries in the nation, with about 1,100 acres harvested across the state. Strawberries, of course, grow in South Carolina too, with many farms located just over the state line. All a convenient drive from Charlotte NC.
Weather conditions will determine if a farm will offer the you-pick experience. Those conditions can change day to day, week to week, so double check a farm’s Facebook pages and websites before you go out to pick your own.
Small local farms will have strawberries for sale at Saturday morning farmers markets. I’ve been buying fabulous organically raised berries from Bluebird Farm at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market over the course of the past several weeks and they have been outstanding. We used them to make a fine strawberry salsa at a recent On the Farm cooking class at New Town Farms. Paired in the salsa with Tega Hill Farms cucumbers and served over a spicy New Town Farm chicken meatball, the strawberries created a sauce that was sublime!
As production at smaller farms isn’t huge, and fresh berries should be eaten within a day or two; I still love to go out to some of the larger farm stands to buy during the week.
Look for great local berries at Burton Farms and Barbee Farms in North Carolina as well as Bush-n-Vine, Black’s Peaches and Springs Farm in South Carolina, just to name a few!
How to care for your strawberries and make the flavor last
Once you get strawberries home, know that they will be at the very best if eaten 1-2 days after picking.
Don’t cap or wash your strawberries until just before you are going to use them in a recipe or enjoy them as a snack, on cereal or in a salad
Strawberries will last longer in the fridge if they are stored in a single layer. They will have a longer “shelf life” if you store them in paper rather than plastic.
To freeze: arrange whole capped or halved berries in a single layer on a baking sheet or plate. Freeze. Once the berries are frozen, place them in a freezer bag or jar and use as needed.
Heidi takes strawberries to the airwaves
On Tuesday May 21,I had the pleasure of sharing one of today’s two recipes on a cooking segment on television. So much fun to recreate this super simple no-bake strawberry cheesecake ( with a few of its variations) on WCNC’s Charlotte Today. In case you missed it, I’ve got your back… here is the video in its entirety!
As you can see, the segment was tons of fun; and the recipe, oh so easy to do! All the details follow below.
But first, to guarantee you don’t miss another blog post, why not subscribe to follow the blog by entering your email address in the blog at the top of the right hand column on the homepage at HeidiBillottoFood.com. You can catch up on other recent posts like my Road Trip to Asheboro, or a delicious post all about Eating Local NC Cheeses while you are there!
Now, lets get on with the recipes…
Cooking with Local Strawberries
The first is a recipe as easy as it is delicious. If your strawberries are super sweet, you might want to adjust the sugar just a bit – make the recipe your own and do it to suit your tastes. Add more strawberry puree to the original recipe and it becomes more of a sauce to serve over fresh fruit or a slice of toasted pound cake ( yum!). You can also use it as a base for a strawberry smoothie.
Local Strawberry No-Bake Cheesecake
For the crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs ( or for a chocolate crust, use chocolate cookie crumbs)
8 Tbsp. Butter, melted
For the filling:
2 (8oz) blocks real cream cheese
½ cup sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
½ cup puree of fresh local North Carolina or South Carolina strawberries
pinch of salt
1 cup heavy cream
Fresh strawberries, blueberries and mint for garnish
Combine graham cracker crumbs or any other type of your favorite cookie crumb and melted butter in a bowl and blend well. Divide the crumb mixture among 6-8 ramekins or individual custard cups and pat into the bottom and up a bit of the sides to form a crust. Refrigerate until ready to fill.
Combine the cream cheese, sugar and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Blend until the mixture is smooth; add the strawberry puree and a pinch of salt and mix till blended. With the machine running, pour the heavy cream through the feed tube and continue to blend until smooth. Spoon the mixture into the graham cracker crumb lined crusts.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Garnish with Fresh sliced strawberries, blueberries and mint just before serving.
Variations on this easy Strawberry Cheesecake theme:
- Pour the cheesecake mix into plastic popsicle molds and freeze for a frozen strawberry cream pop.
- For a bit of crunch, you can add some of the cookie crumbs or your favorite granola into the cheesecake mix before you spoon it into the popsicle mold.
The Savory Side of Local Strawberries
No doubt, you have enjoyed a fresh spinach salad with sliced strawberries. That popular combo is just one of the savory ways to enjoy this seasonal fruit.
I often mix it with fresh veggies and local lettuces for a healthy fresh raw veggie salad. Dress it with Kores Estate Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a organic Strawberry infused balsamic vinegar, both from my friends at the Olive Crate here in Charlotte and you have a delicious lunch or dinner. You can buy all the Olive Crate products on any Saturday morning in Building B at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market , the SouthEnd Farmers Market at Atherton Mill and the Cotswold Farmers Market all in Charlotte. Or , if you don’t live in town, you can order from them online. Use the code HeidiB20 and you’ll get a 20% discount!
As I mentioned in my On the Farm class at New Town Farms last weekend, we also used local strawberries in a terrific salsa. Fresh cucumbers from Tega Hill Farm gave the salsa a great little crunch and a great local NC candied jalapenos helped to spice things up! The candied jalapenos are a local product from Wilmington NC. The company is called Cape Fear Pirate Candy and jars are available locally at Saltwater Seafood Market with locations in Clover SC and in Gastonia NC.
Strawberries Aside, for a moment, here’s more on Tega Hill Farm
Tega Hill Farms cukes are available on Saturday mornings at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market and at the Matthews Community Farmers Market. You can also buy at Tega Hills’ own farm store Monday – Friday. The farm and the farm stand are located at 1780 Zoar Road.
Make plans now to join me for one of my On the Farm cooking classes at Tega Hills Farm on Saturday June 22. With all the hydroponic product Mindy and Mark Robinson grown on the farm, we’re planning a Vegetarian theme for the class.
Make your cooking class reservations now
Like all of my On the Farm classes, we’ll start with a fascinating Farm Tour and then set up shop in a make-shift “Kitchen” under a tent or in a greenhouse to prepare 4-5 fabulous courses of all local eats. Wine Pairing from Dover Vineyards will accompany each course. Cost is $85 per person ( 18 years old and up) To make your advance reservation, simply email me at Heidi@HeidiCooks.com.
Back to Strawberries… and a delicious Strawberry Salsa
Heidi Billotto’s Strawberry and Cucumber Salsa
2 Tbsp. Olive Crate Kores Estate Olive Oil
20-30 local strawberries
2-3 Tega Hills Farm cucumbers, halved, seeded and cut into thin half moons
1/2 medium red onion, finely minced
1 bunch local cilantro, chopped
Cape Fear Pirate Candy candied jalapenos to taste
lime juice to taste
Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend
Outer Banks Sea Salt
Mix everything in a bowl. Taste the salsa and adjust any of the ingredients to your taste. Chill until ready to serve.
Do You Love Cooking with Strawberries? Then enter here…
Join me Saturday May 25 at 9 am at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market. For the market’s ANNUAL BAKING COMPETITION. This year the theme is “All Things Strawberry”. This fun and friendly baking competition is open to ALL ages with a separate “Under 16” category. Think…Cookies, cakes, muffins, pies and maybe even a savory application…as long as it’s baked and made with strawberries, you’re good to go!
Let my strawberry recipes here inspire you to come up with a seasonal strawberry recipe all your own…then bake it up and bring it to the market to enter the competition and share with the crowd.
I’m delighted to be on the judging panel along with a panel of talented Charlotte chefs that includes Chef Peter Reinhardt, Chef Ashley Bivens from 300 East and Chef Rick Dudley from the Community Culinary School of Charlotte. We will be looking forward to many “All Things Strawberry” entries…
Competition Rules and Entry Form here…. at the Matthews Community Farmers Market website, under the Special Event header. #TellThemHeidiSentYou