strawberries

Vegan Banana Berry Muffins

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Muffins are the ultimate portable breakfast or snack; just peel them out of their wrappers, pop a few in a bag or container, and go! We didn’t think it was possible to improve on the muffin concept . . . until we tried these Vegan Banana Berry Muffins—a fluffy, cakey delight bursting with sweetness and the bright flavor of berries. You can use a single type of berry—strawberries or blueberries, for example—for this recipe, but we love a mix.

 

Because overripe banana is richly sweet and works well as a binder in baked goods, this Vegan Banana Berry Muffins recipe calls for very little oil, and only a small amount of sugar. We’ve blended two different flours here—whole wheat for fiber and almond for protein and an extra zing of flavor, but you can substitute either with all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour (you may need to add more or less almond milk if you do this). Likewise, the nuts are optional, but we love their crunch and the added protein. The almond flour and nuts make these muffins a little more filling than those made with only white flour, so you won’t be tempted to overindulge in one sitting.

 

Serve these Vegan Banana Berry Muffins with vegan butter or cashew cream cheese, or a spoonful of lemon curd. They’ll keep in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week, or in the freezer for up to two months.

  

Vegan Banana Berry Muffins

 

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Ingredients

1 flax “egg” (1 tablespoon flaxseed meal mixed with 3 tablespoons water)

3 medium ripe bananas (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup granulated sugar or coconut sugar

3 tablespoons agave

3 tablespoon canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoons salt (pink Himalayan sea salt is our favorite)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

3/4 cup unsweeted plain almond milk or coconut milk

1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cup almond meal

1/2 chopped walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts (optional)

1 cup strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries, or a combination

Brown sugar (optional)

 

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a standard muffin tin with paper or silicone baking cups.

2. In a large bowl, make the flax egg. Wait 10 minutes, then add the banana, baking powder, and baking soda and beat until fairly smooth, with only small chunks remaining.

3. Add the sugar, agave, oil, salt, and cinnamon and beat on medium to combine. Add the almond or coconut milk and beat until combined.

4. In a medium bowl, mix the almond meal and flour. Add to the banana mixture and mix until just combined; don’t overmix! Gently fold in the nuts and berries.

5. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling completely. If desired, sprinkle a little brown sugar over the top of each muffin. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the edges of the muffins have turned golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the muffin tin for 5 minutes. Remove from the tin and allow to cool completely on a rack.

Myths and Truths about Strawberries

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Wondering how to tell truth from fiction when it comes to strawberries? Let’s look at some of the common myths about strawberries—and the real truth behind them.

Myth: Strawberries are best picked just before ripening, because they’ll last longer and ripen upon standing.

Truth: Strawberries are nonclimacteric fruit; their tissues won’t continue the metabolic process of ripening after harvest. Consequently, underripe berries also lack the nutritional value and flavor of fully ripe berries. Because of this, always pick berries at the height of ripeness. Your local farm store already knows this, and will only harvest fully ripe berries. If you prefer to pick your own, look for plump, firm (but not hard) fruits with a uniform bright-red color. Strawberries that have green or white spots are underripe; those with shriveled, very dark skin or a “collapsed” look are overripe.  

 

Myth: The bigger the berry, the more flavorful.

Truth: When it comes to berries, size doesn’t indicate taste or juiciness. In fact, large berries are often less flavorful than smaller ones!

 

Myth: Berries should be the same size.

Truth: Grocery store strawberries are typically big and uniform in size, but this is purely a marketing tactic. Those berries have been bred for high volume and transportation hardiness, and lack both the flavor and nutritional content of locally grown berries of varying shapes and sizes. So don’t worry if your farm-store pint (or quart!) contains both small and large berries, and even or alien-looking berries with funny, irregular shapes. They taste even better than the “perfect” large-scale-grown berries!

 

Myth: Strawberries contain toxic pesticides.

Truth: Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a list of “dirty” fruits and vegetables that consumers are supposed to avoid because they contain pesticide residues. For the third year in a row, strawberries were ranked number one on the list (also on the list: healthful foods like spinach and apples). But the EWG list is misleading from both a scientific and a social standpoint.

The EWG’s approach to ranking has not been supported by any scientific organization, undergone peer review, or been published in a scientific journal. It also ignores the facts that plants produce natural pesticides to combat pests, and these residues exceed human-applied pesticides by ten-thousandfold. Pesticide residues in plants are generally quite low; only at very high levels are they considered toxic to the point of demonstrating negative effects on the human body. And pesticide applications vary greatly according to climate—for instance, berry growers in wet climates such as Florida typically need to apply pesticides more frequently than growers in New York, yet the EWG list only considers averages that may be skewed by location.

 

Myth: Strawberries don’t taste as good cold and shouldn’t be refrigerated.

Truth: While it’s true that the strawberry’s flavor comes out best when it’s at room temperature, cold storage is necessary for preserving fresh berries. Once you get them home from the farm store, place them in the fridge until just before you’re ready to eat them. Then either allow them to come to room temperature, or rinse them with warm water.

Also, if the container your strawberries came in is small and the berries are packed tightly together, transfer them into a larger container. More room between berries will slow down the natural spoilage that occurs as fruits pass their prime.

 

Myth: It’s a good idea to wash all your berries all at once, then store them for later.

Truth: Because moisture promotes the growth of mold, only wash the quantity of berries you need at the moment, and store the remainder unwashed.

 

Myth: Strawberries have vitamin C, but they don’t have many other healthful attributes.

Truth: Strawberries—and all berries—are nutritional powerhouses! In addition to a whopping 152 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin C, strawberries also contain fiber and antioxidant compounds that are known to reduce the effects of oxidative stress caused by aging and a variety of diseases. These superfoods are also fat- and cholesterol-free, and low in calories. Want to learn more about the many health benefits of berries? Read on. 

 

Myth: Strawberries have too much sugar to be healthy.

Truth: Carbohydrates, in the form of naturally occurring sugars, are an important part of a healthy diet and a primary source of energy for humans. A cup of strawberries has about 11 grams of carbohydrates, just 4 percent of your daily allowance. Strawberries are also considered low-glycemic-index foods, so they have little effect on your blood glucose levels or insulin response, unlike foods that contain refined sugars.

If you have diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome, talk to your doctor about how you can incorporate strawberries into your diet in quantities that won’t negatively affect those conditions. Otherwise, strawberries are an excellent source of a variety of nutrients and can be a fantastic addition to a healthful, disease-prevention diet.

6 Strawberry Recipes You’ll Love for Spring & Summer

For us, spring hasn’t truly arrived until the first crop of strawberries is here. Since they’re almost here, we rounded up six fantastic appetizer, entrée, and dessert recipes for using your favorite fruit from now into summer.

 

Breakfast Flatbread with Ricotta and Strawberry-Basil Jam

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A breakfast version of pizza that combines the crunch of warm flatbread with the mild savoriness of ricotta and the floral-sweet flavor of a strawberry jam punched up with basil? Yes, please.

 

Blue Cheese Stuffed Strawberries

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Strawberries are a natural counterpoint to tangy cheeses. This simple recipe, with the extra zing of balsamic vinegar, makes an easy yet unexpected party hors d’ouevre. Save the scooped-out strawberry centers for making compotes, smoothies, or strawberry ice cubes.

 

Citrus Steak Salad

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With its mix of oranges and strawberries, this take on sirloin is light, bright, and filling, and looks impressive, too.

 

Strawberry Horchata

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A twist on the classic Latin rice-based milk drink, this berry version of horchata will satisfy the sweetest of palates. Make it vegan—and a bit more grown up—by substituting half of the condensed milk with coconut milk and half with a cream liqueur, such as Amarula or Guappa.

 

Chocolate Strawberry Slump (Cobbler)

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Perfect for when you need a dessert that looks and tastes impressive but doesn’t take sophisticated kitchen skills—or a lot of time—to put together.

 

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Fudge

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Why let peanut butter, chocolate, or maple have all the fun? Strawberries make a delicious flavor and texture complement to this fudge, which is made entirely in the microwave.

 

 

Not Just for Dessert: How to Use Berries in Savory Recipes

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Berries are a no-brainer in dessert, as well as in dozens of waffle, pancake, muffin, and breakfast-cake recipes. But why stop there, when you can enjoy the phenomenal taste and supernutritious benefits of berries with every meal? Here’s a little inspiration for using strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries in some unexpected savory meals.

Serve berries in your next:

Raw salad. All berries, but especially strawberries and blueberries, are delicious with spinach, kale, mache, or mesclun mixes, where their sweetness takes the bite out of greens. Add a handful of nuts, like almonds or walnuts, for contrasting textures and extra nutritional punch.

Bruschetta. Fresh or as a jam, berries work beautifully with a drizzle of fine olive oil.

Grilled cheese. Make a berry jam or conserves—either from a single berry or mixed berries—and spread it over your bread before you grill cheese. We haven’t met a cheese yet that doesn’t taste amazing when paired with berries, so experiment with everything from sharp, tangy goat cheeses or aged hard cheeses like Parmesan or Asiago, to milder cheeses like Swiss, Gruyere, and cheddar.

Baked Brie. We weren’t kidding when we said berries go with any cheese! This dish never fails to please at dinner parties, but it couldn’t be easier to make. Simply stew the berries on the stovetop first to create a jammy consistency, the spoon it over freshly baked Brie.

Pizza. You could easily make a sweet—and crowd-pleasing—pizza with berries and a young goat cheese. But did you know that blackberries and raspberries provide a natural “lift” to earthier flavors like blue cheese and arugula? Or that strawberries and blueberries are a dream team when paired with spinach, mozzarella, and a dash of balsamic vinegar?

Sauce for proteins. This is one of our favorite—and probably the most underused—way to serve berries in a savory recipe. Stew them with a squeeze or two of agave or honey, plus a little cornstarch (if needed for thickening), then pour the sauce over roasted or grilled pork, beef, lamb, or tempeh. Serve with healthy grains like quinoa and brown rice.

Dipping sauce. Similar to the above, a stewed sauce of raspberries or strawberries makes a deliciously unexpected dip for fried chicken (or vegan “chicken”).

Spicy barbecue sauce. If you love a kick-in-the-pants barbecue sauce, try mixing berries along with chile peppers, like habanero, jalapeno, and chipotle, while cooking. Let the mixture sit for several hours before using, to deepen the flavors.

Ceviche. While berries may not seem like the most natural pairing with fish, they’re delightful in this traditional Latino dish, where citrus brings out their inherent brightness.

Tropical salsa. Mix the berries with mango, pineapple, cilantro, red onion, jalapeno, a healthy squeeze of lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Then serve over crispy fried tilapia or sea bass in fish tacos, or over shredded beef or pork nachos.

Mixed-berry Thanksgiving sauce. Tired of the same-old cranberry sauce? Reinvent it with a mixture of blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. Your turkey—and your tastebuds—will thank you!

Cocktails. Sure, you’ve had berries in sweet spiked lemonades and iced teas. But have you tried them with stronger spirits? Muddle the berries with cachaça for an update on the Brazilian classic caipirinha, or blend with rum and mint for an unforgettable take on the mojito.

 

 

Are Frozen Berries as Nutritious as Fresh? You Bet!

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A May article in The Guardian posed the following question and answer:

Q: Fresh [food] is best – right?

A: In fact, studies on the relative benefits of fresh and frozen show no consistent differences.

As far back as the late 1990s, the Food & Drug Administration declared that frozen fruits and vegetables provide the same essential nutrients and health benefits as fresh. Meanwhile, a more recent story on Health.com notes, “Some of the healthiest foods in the market are in the freezer section.” 

So when it comes to those local berries you bought and froze during the summer, rest assured that enjoying them during the fall and winter doesn’t mean that your favorite recipes will lack for any of the health benefits that make strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries the superfoods they are. No matter whether fresh or frozen, berries are nutritional powerhouses that can contribute to a variety of positive health effects, from preventing to disease to maintaining a consistent weight.

The ability of frozen fruit and vegetables to retain their nutritional value has a lot to do with the quick-freezing and flash-freezing technologies that have been developed and refined since the 1920s. These days, frozen berries show no significant difference in nutrient levels as their fresh counterparts. They’ve also improved a lot in texture and flavor, thanks to manufactures’ desire to satisfy the savvy customer’s demand for healthier, better-tasting, and better-quality foods.

So take out a bag or two of your frozen farmers’ market berries and allow them to thaw overnight in the fridge. Add strawberries or blackberries to pancakes or acai bowls, fold blueberries into muffins and breads, and savor raspberries in sauces for meat and fish. Or enjoy enjoy a mix of berries in pies, tarts, trifles, and parfaits—without guilt or fear that they’re not as good for you as their freshly picked friends.

 

Farmers' Market Finds with Dale Ila Riggs

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This summer, NYSBGA board chair Dale Ila Riggs was interviewed by Albany radio station WEQX about how she got her start in farming and why growing and selling healthy, happy berries has become such an important part of her work. Listen to the interview through the link below.

6 Ways to Enjoy Fresh-Tasting, Local Strawberries All Year Long

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6 Ways to Enjoy Fresh-Tasting, Local Strawberries 

. . . All Year Long

Summer is just getting under way here in the Northeast, and we’re looking forward to several weeks’ worth of fresh, juicy strawberries. But short of going on an all-strawberry diet—which, come to think of it, doesn’t sound like a bad idea—we often find ourselves with extra berries. And since the thought of tossing even part of our bounty makes us want to cry into our berry smoothies, we’ve developed several ways to keep the good times rolling—and the berries fresh-tasting—all year long.

Freeze them! This is the easiest way to preserve all that strawberry goodness long after the growing season has ended. First, be sure that the berries you’re using are fully ripe; they should be deep red and firm. Remove the stems and caps, and wash and drain the fruit. Place the berries in a single layer on towels to dry; then pop the whole berries into containers or freezer bags (squeeze as much air as possible out of the bags), and place in the freezer.

You can also slice the berries in half or lightly crush them, place them in a bowl, and stir 1/2 cup sugar into each quart of berries, and gently mix till the sugar is dissolved. Freeze them in containers. To use, allow the berries to thaw completely, and drain off excess water. The water can be used for smoothies, so don’t throw it out!

Make berry cubes. In a mixing bowl, gently crush up to a pint of berries. Add enough filtered or spring water to make a chunky liquid. If you like extra sweetness, add 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, and stir well until the sugar is dissolved. If you prefer a mix of savory and sweet flavors, skip the sugar and add a handful of clean, finely chopped fresh basil, mint, or rosemary. Spoon the mixture into clean ice cube trays. For a sweet berry blast in cocktails and other drinks, pop a couple of frozen berry cubes into the glass.

Make jam or jelly. Each cook seems to have his or her own jam recipe, so don’t be afraid to experiment! If you’ve never tried making strawberry jam before, it couldn’t be easier. Try this recipe for ultra-simple, no-cook freezer jam, or this recipe for more traditional, cooked strawberry preserves.

Dry them. Skip the teeny-tiny, overpriced packages of strawberries sold in some gourmet stores. Instead, preheat your oven to 200 degrees F. Clean your fresh berries, remove the stems and caps, and slice them in half. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and lay the berries cut side up on top. Slide the sheet into the oven, and dry the berries for 2 hours. Flip them over, and dry for 2 hours more. Allow the berries to cool completely, and store them in airtight containers in the fridge. They shrink quite a bit when dried, so you’ll be able to pack quite a few into each container.

If you have a dehydrator, you can dry the sliced berries at 135 degrees F for 8 to 10 hours for soft berries, or 10 to 14 hours for crisp ones.

Although store-bought dried strawberries have added sugar, baking them on a low heat setting really concentrates their sweetness, so we skip that step. Why mess with perfection?

Mix up a quick strawberry sauce. This simple sauce is a classic for topping pancakes, waffles, ice cream, and cakes, but it’s also good in savory dishes. Mix it with some balsamic vinaigrette for salads; add it to marinades for chicken, fish, or pork; or drain off a bit of the liquid and spread it over artisanal bread for grilled cheese sandwiches. This sauce will keep in the fridge for several days, and you can also freeze it

Craft your own strawberry wine. This recipe requires a bit of attention and a lot of patience, to keep you from sampling the wares before they’re ready, but it’s well worth the effort and the handful of specialty supplies, especially if you’ve got guests coming over for the holidays. Trust us: you’ll wonder why you didn’t try it sooner.

Don’t miss out on the summer berry harvest! Find a farm in your area today.

How to Pick the Best, Most Luscious Berries

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How to Pick the Best, Most Luscious Berries

The sweet little white blooms of our strawberry plants are the first—and most welcome—sign that summer is on its way. Since those happy flowers will transform into delicious fruits in just a couple of short weeks, we’ve put together this guide for how to pick the best berries.

1. Buy local! Strawberries that are shipped in from across the country or over country borders are picked prior to ripening, to keep them from deteriorating quickly. But berries generally don’t ripen after picking, and pre-ripe berries are often flavorless. To find a New York State berry farm in your area, visit our Find a Farm directory.

2. Look for bright color and firm flesh. Select only strawberries that are shiny and firm, with a rich red color and caps and/or stems that are a vibrant green and fresh-looking. Avoid berries that have white or green flesh around the cap or in the center of the berry.

3. Remember that size and shape don’t equal quality. Supermarket berries are bred and selected for their uniform appearance, but their flavor and texture can’t compare to their sweet, juicy farm stand cousins. So even if the berries have a funny shape or vary in size, as long as they’re ripe, they’ll still taste great!

4. Plan a midmorning harvest. If you’re planning to visit a U-pick, or pick-your-own, berry farm, time your trip for midmorning, after the dew has evaporated but the berries are still cool to the touch. Harvest the berries by holding the fruit with one hand and using the thumb and index finger of the opposite hand to snap the stem. Avoid grabbing the fruit and pulling downward on the berry; this can damage them.

Once you get home, take the strawberries out of the carton and look for any that might be partially squashed or have the beginnings of mold growth; remove these berries to prevent additional mold from forming. Wash only what you need for the moment, and refrigerate the unwashed remainder.

Refrigerated berries will generally stay fresh for up to a week. But between slicing them over granola, adding them to pies and muffins, using them in sweet-savory recipes, and munching on them by the handful, our berries never seem to last that long. . . .

Strawberries Show Promise as a Potent Weapon against Oral Cancer

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Strawberries Show Promise

As a Potent Weapon against Oral Cancer

With fresh, local strawberries due on farmers’ market shelves in May, it’s easy to enjoy the cancer-protective benefits of berries all year long.

As the strawberry-growing season heats up, researchers are putting renewed attention into studying the beneficial effects of berries, including strawberries, on cancer. The berries’ cancer-fighting potential may be even greater than previously thought, with their many nutritional compounds providing protection against—and, in some cases, even reversal of—oral cancer. 

The strawberry’s effectiveness against oral cancer first came to light in a 2011 study in China, which was led by cancer researchers at Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. In the study, patients with mild to moderate precancerous lesions of the esophagus consumed one to two ounces a day of a drink made with freeze-dried strawberry powder, made from whole berries. After six months, the progression of the disease was reversed in 80% of patients, from moderate to mild or from mild to completely eliminated.

In April 2017, OSU scientists presented the results of another study, in which they administered a candy containing the equivalent of 2.5 cups of whole strawberries to a group of smokers and nonsmokers. Participants ate the candy four times a day for a week, while abstaining from eating other red and purple vegetables.

At the end of one week, saliva and tissue samples from the smokers who consumed the strawberry candy showed significant differences, including in “changes in the microbiome, or bacteria, and in the expression of genes, both which may play a role in cancer’s development,” according to a summary on Newsmax Health. Encouraged by these preliminary results, OSU researchers are currently recruiting 250 smokers for their new study.

Strawberries pack an array of antioxidant and anti-cancer compounds, including anthocyanins, flavonoids, ellagic acid, and ellagitannins. They’re also high in fiber, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K, several B vitamins, folate, manganese, magnesium, copper, and omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to being a promising treatment for oral and other cancers, studies have found a positive correlation between berries and improved cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, and improved blood-sugar regulation (and, thus, reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes).

Fresh, local berries often contain more nutrients than imported foods, and can easily be purchased in larger quantities and frozen for year-round enjoyment. To freeze fresh strawberries, simply remove the stems and caps, rinse well, and drain; then place the berries in a single layer on clean towels to dry. Place the dry berries in plastic containers or bags, and freeze until needed.

To find a local farm near you, visit our Find-a-Farm directory.