Tips on Picking and Using Strawberries
Cooperative Extension Service
College of Agriculture
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Nutrition and Strawberry
- How to Buy Strawberries
- How the Plant Develops
- How to Pick Strawberries
- Tips for Strawberry Pickers
- Take Good Care of Strawberries
- Ways to Use Strawberries
- Freezing Strawberries
- Strawberry Jams and Preserves
For information on growing strawberries at home, request Circular 935, Growing Small Fruits
in the Home Garden, from the Office of Publications, 47 Mumford Hall, University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois 61801.
Strawberries - red, ripe, luscious! Many of us enjoy
eating berries frequently during the height of the season. You can buy them at the grocer's or at a
roadside stand, but many people enjoy picking their own strawberries at a Pick-Your-Own farm.
At these farms you can enjoy the fresh vine-ripe quality and the opportunity to select your own
fruit. You can also enjoy the ride in the country and the friendly atmosphere at the farm.
Strawberry season lasts 3 to 4 weeks, so you can plan several trips to enjoy fresh fruit.
This publication can help you get more out of the strawberry season with tips on selecting and
picking berries and recipes for fresh fruit. And you can extend the season by following the
directions for freezing and preserving strawberries.
Strawberries are not only good to eat, they are also "good for us." They are an especially tasty
source of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). In fact, one cup of fresh strawberries provides about 88
milligrams of ascorbic acid, which more than meets the Recommended Daily Dietary allowance of
45 milligrams for the average adult. Vitamin C is well retained when the strawberries are handled
carefully. Capping, injuring, cutting, or juicing, however, will reduce the vitamin content.
- Strawberries are low in calories: one cup of unsweetened strawberries has only 55 calories.
you are on a reducing diet, use strawberries to add flavor, food value, and pleasure to meals. You
can even eat some as a between-meals snack.
Strawberries come in many sizes. Berry size is influenced by the variety, growing conditions, and
time of picking during the season. Some consumers prefer large berries even though some of the
smaller varieties may be tastier. Dry, firm, fully ripe berries are best. Caps should be green and
fresh looking. A stained box may indicate that some of the berries in it are overripe.
- Strawberries are usually sold on Pick-Your own farms in quart baskets or in cardboard trays
hold 4 to 8 quarts (6 to 12 pounds). The berries may be priced by either the quart or the pound.
- Remember, your local strawberry season only lasts 3 to 4 weeks.
Strawberry plants are harvested a year after planting. They are planted in early spring, and runner
plants emerge during the summer to form a matted row. No berries are picked during the first
year. The strawberry beds are covered with straw (mulched) to protect them over the winter and
to make clean picking conditions the next spring. The red, ripe berries are ready to harvest about
21 days after the white flowers appear.
Strawberries look better and keep longer when they are picked and handled correctly. Because
they are a very tender fruit, they will bruise and discolor any time they are squeezed. Handle them
gently), at all times, whether you are picking them, placing them in the container, or handling the
- Some strawberry varieties are much easier to pick than others. For example, when they are
mature, Surecrop berries usually snap off readily with a portion of the stem attached. Sparkle, on
the other hand, will bruise unless you pinch the stem off. The surest way to pick fruit with a
minimum of bruising is as follows:
- Grasp the stem just above the berry between the forefinger and the thumbnail and pull
with a slight twisting motion.
- With the stem broken about one-half inch from the berry, allow it to roll into the palm of your
- Repeat these operations using both hands until each holds 3 or 4 berries.
- Carefully place - don't throw - the fruit into your containers. Repeat the picking process with
- Don't overfill your containers or try to pack the berries down.
Another method may be used with some
varieties that cap easily. Picking berries without the
calyx or cap will result in some bruising but is satisfactory for berries that will be processed soon
- Grasp the stem between the thumb and forefinger just behind the cap.
- Squeeze slightly against the cap and apply slight pressure against the berry with the second
finger. The berry should pull loose, leaving the cap on the stem.
Whether you pick strawberries from your own garden or at a Pick-Your-Own farm, here are a
few tips to keep in mind:
- Be careful that your feet and knees do not damage plants or fruit in or along the edge of the
row. At a Pick-Your-Own farm, it is important that you pick only on the row assigned to you.
- Most growers furnish picking containers designed for strawberries. If you use your own
container, remember that heaping strawberries more than 5 inches deep will bruise the lower
- Pick only the berries that are fully red. Part the leaves with your hands to look for hidden
berries ready for harvest.
- Pick the row clean. Remove from the plants berries showing rot, sunburn, insect injury,
or other defects and place them between the rows behind you.
- Berries to be used immediately may be picked any time, but if you plan to hold the fruit
for a few days, try to pick in the early morning or on cool, cloudy days. Berries picked during the
heat of the day become soft, are easily bruised, and will not keep well.
- Avoid placing the picked berries in the sun any longer than necessary. It is better to put
them in the shade of a tree or shed than 'In the car trunk or on the car seat. Cool them as soon as
possible after picking. Strawberries may be kept fresh in the refrigerator for 3 or more days,
depending upon the initial quality of the berry. After a few days in storage, however, the fruit
loses its bright color and fresh flavor and tends to shrivel.
- Give the harvested fruit a soft ride home.
You can preserve their food value and quality by treating the berries gently. When you get them
home, sort but do not clean them until just before you use them. Store the berries uncovered in
the refrigerator in the original or a shallow container. When you are ready to use the berries,
wash them quickly in cold water. Do not let them soak. Lift them gently from the wash water
and drain them well before you hull them.
- Some of the old favorites -strawberry shortcake, fresh strawberry pie, strawberry sundaes,
strawberries and cream - are hard to beat. Strawberries combine well with dry cereal and milk for
breakfast or with custards, puddings, tapioca, and other desserts made from milk. They add color
and flavor to compotes and salads. Popular combinations are strawberries with bananas,
pineapple, or cooked rhubarb. Strawberries also make a handsome garnish for salads, desserts,
and fruit punches. To use them as a garnish, clean the berries but don't remove the caps and
For each serving wash 1 cup of fully ripe
strawberries. Leave the caps and stems on. Drain until
dry. Arrange the berries on a dessert plate and
serve with a variety of dips like confectioners' sugar, sour cream, chocolate sauce, whipped
cream, coconut, and chopped nuts.
The French version is to serve the berries with a small bowl of port or Marsala wine and a mound
of granulated brown sugar. The berry is dipped into the wine and then into the sugar and popped
into the mouth.
Fresh Strawberry Pie
- 9-inch baked pie shell
- 1 quart strawberries
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 cup water
- red food coloring
Sort, wash, and hull berries, but leave 6 to 8 choice
berries with the caps on them to be used later
as a garnish. Crush half of the rest of the berries, and sprinkle the mixture of sugar and cornstarch
over them. Add the water. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick and
transparent. To improve the color, add a few drops of red food coloring. Cut the remaining
berries in half and spread them in the pie shell. Pour the cooked mixture over the berries. Chill.
When ready to serve, cut the pie into 6 to 8 pieces. Garnish with a spoonful of sweetened
whipped cream or topping and a whole berry. Note: If the berries are extremely juicy, spread a
thin layer of softened cream cheese on the pie shell to help keep the crust from becoming
- 1 cup sliced strawberries
- 1 cup diced rhubarb
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 2 1/2 cups prepared biscuit mix
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine whipped cream or topping
Combine strawberries and rhubarb. Combine sugar
and water and cook for 10 minutes, stirring
until sugar is dissolved. Add enough milk to biscuit mix to make rolled biscuits (follow directions
on package). Roll dough into a rectangular shape about 9" x 6". Spread rhubarb and strawberries
on dough. Roll up like a jelly roll 9" long. Slice 11/2" thick and lay the slices flat in a baking pan.
Dot with butter or margarine. Pour hot syrup over the top. Bake in a hot oven (450' F) for 20
minutes. Serve warm with cream, whipped cream, or topping. Makes 6 servings.
Whipped Strawberry Topping
- 1 egg white
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup crushed strawberries, fresh or frozen
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Beat egg white until foamy. Gradually beat in
sugar, strawberries, and lemon juice. Continue
beating until stiff and fluffy. Serve immediately as
a topping for sponge or angel food cake.
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups crushed strawberries (about 1 quart box)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (use larger amount for tart berries)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 2/3 cups chilled evaporated milk
Mix together strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice.
Whip milk until very stiff. (Evaporated milk
whips easily if it is icy cold.) Fold strawberry mixture into whipped milk. Pour immediately into
cold refrigerator trays or a fancy mold, and freeze. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
When you have more strawberries than you can eat or when strawberries can be obtained at a
reasonable cost, freeze them to eat later. For freshly made strawberry 'am at any time of the year,
freeze berries and then make the jam at your convenience.
- Strawberries are easy to freeze. You can use a dry-sugar or a syrup pack. The dry-sugar
especially easy and gives the best flavor and color for sliced or crushed berries. For whole frozen
berries a syrup pack is recommended because it produces a plump, well-shaped berry after
thawing. For special sugar-free diets, strawberries can be frozen unsweetened, but they will not
be as high in quality as sugar- or syrup-packed berries.
- Twelve pounds or 8 quarts of fresh strawberries will yield approximately 13 pints of frozen
- No matter which type of pack you choose to use, follow these general directions for
and packaging strawberries for freezing:
- Use only firm, fully ripe berries.
- To avoid bruising and soaking the berries, wash
only a few at a time in cold water.
- Drain on absorbent paper or in a colander or sieve.
- Remove the hulls with the tip of a floating blade peeler.
- Chill the fruit in ice water to lower its temperature for fast freezing.
- When packaging for freezing:
- Do not fill containers completely; allow a head space of ½" for pints, 1/4" for 11/2 pints, and
I" for quarts.
Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) may be purchased in crystalline or tablet form or as a commercial
ascorbic acid mixture to help prevent darkening of foods. If using the crystalline form, dissolve ½
teaspoon of ascorbic acid in each pint of water, berry I . nice, or crushed berries. For a dry-sugar
pack, mix the ascorbic acid with the sugar. If using tablets, use 1,500 milligrams per pint; crush
the tablets so that they will dissolve more readily. When using a commercial mixture, follow the
- Seal containers and label with the name of the product and the date frozen.
- Freeze promptly, then store at 0 degree F or below.
- Halve, quarter, or slice clean berries into a bowl or shallow pan. If desired, berries may be
crushed rather than sliced.
- Sprinkle sugar over berries, using 1/3 to 3/4 cup sugar for each quart of fruit.
- Gently turn berries over and over until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved.
- Package and freeze.
Make a syrup using 11/4 cups water to each cup sugar.
Dissolve the sugar in either cold or hot water; if hot water is used, be sure to chill the syrup
before using. Use about ½ to 1/3 cup of syrup for each pint container.
Place whole or sliced berries in containers and cover with cold syrup.
Package and freeze.
- Pack whole, sliced, or crushed berries in containers.
- Cover whole or sliced berries with water or berry juice. For better color retention, add
ascorbic acid to the water, berry juice, or crushed berries. Cover crushed berries with their own
juice. Package and freeze as discussed earlier.
In this section, recipes are given for making
jam from fresh or frozen strawberries. The starred 1 recipes are adapted from U.S. Department
of Agriculture Home and Garden Bulletin No. 56, How To Make jellies, jams, and Preserves
4 cups crushed strawberries (about 2 quart boxes)
- 4 cups sugar
- Measure berries and sugar into a large kettle.
Mix well. Bring quickly to a full boil and boil idly,
stirring constantly, until mixture reaches 220 F or mixture thickens. Remove from heat: skim.
Ladle into clean, hot, sterilized containers.
Cap with 2-piece canning lids and process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath. Makes 4 half
Strawberry jam with Powdered
5 1/2 cups crushed strawberries (about 3 quart boxes)
- 1 package powdered fruit pectin 8 cups
Measure berries into a large kettle. Add the pectin
and stir well. Bring quickly to a full boil,
stirring constantly. Add sugar; continue stirring; bring to a full boil, and boil hard for I minute.
Remove from heat; skim. Ladle into clean, hot, sterilized containers. Cap with 2-piece canning
lids and process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath. Makes 9 half-pints.
Strawberry jam with Liquid Pectin
4 cups crushed strawberries (about 2 quart boxes)
- 7 cups sugar
- ½ bottle liquid pectin
Measure berries into a large kettle. Add sugar and
mix well. Bring quickly to a full boil, stirring
constantly, and boil hard for I minute. Remove from heat and stir in the pectin. Ladle into clean,
hot, sterilized containers. Cap with 2-piece canning lids and process 5 minutes in a boiling water
bath. Makes 8 half-pints.
Uncooked Strawberry jam
3 cups crushed strawberries (about 1112 quart boxes)
- 5 cups sugar
- 1 package powdered fruit pectin
- 1 cup water
Measure berries into a large mixing bowl. Add
sugar, mix well, and let stand for about 20
minutes, stirring occasionally. Dissolve pectin in water, bring to a boil and boil for I minute. Add
this solution to the berry mixture and stir for 2 minutes. Ladle jam into freezer containers or
canning jars; leave ½ inch space at the top. Cover containers and let stand for 24 hours or until
jam has set. Store in refrigerator or freezer. jam will keep up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator or up
to a year in the freezer. Makes 7 half-pints.
If the jam is too firm, stir to soften. If it is too
soft, bring it to a boil and it will thicken on cooling.
Strawberry jam with Frozen Berries
Packed in Sugar or Syrup
3 1/2 cups thawed, crushed strawberries and juice
- 3 1/2 cups sugar
- 3 12, tablespoons powdered pectin or
- ½ bottle liquid pectin
Thaw the berries. If they were not crushed before
freezing, crush them. Measure the fruit and
juice into a very large saucepan.
To make with powdered pectin, measure sugar and set aside. Thoroughly mix powdered pectin
with thawed berries and juice. Bring quickly to a full boil, stirring constantly. Add sugar,
continue stirring, and heat to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and skim off foam. Stir for 5 minutes, skimming as necessary. Fill clean, hot,
sterilized containers. Cap with 2-piece canning lids and process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.
To make with liquid pectin, mix thawed berries and juice with sugar. Stirring constantly, bring
mixture to a full boil and boil hard one minute.
Remove from heat and immediately stir in liquid pectin. Skim off foam. Alternately stir and skim
off foam for 5 minutes. Fill clean, hot, sterilized containers. Cap with 2-piece canning lids and
process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.
6 cups large., firm, tart strawberries (about 2 quart boxes), cleaned and capped
- 4 1/2 cups sugar
- Combine whole fruit and sugar in alternate
layers. Let stand for 8 to 10 hours or overnight in the
refrigerator or other cool place. Heat fruit mixture to boiling, stirring gently. Boil rapidly,
stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook to 220' F or until syrup is somewhat thick (about
15 to 20 minutes). Remove from heat; skim. Ladle into clean, hot, sterilized containers. Cap
with 2-piece canning lids and process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath. Makes 4
This publication was prepared by J. W. Courter, Professor of Horticulture, and these former
faculty and staff members: Geraldine E. Ackee and Sylvia Calgary, Foods and Nutrition; C. M.
Sabot and the late Chester C. Zech., Horticulture.
The circular was revised by J. W. Courter, Professor of Horticulture, and Mary Keith, Assistant
Professor of Foods and Nutrition.
The Illinois Cooperative Extension Service provides equal opportunities in programs and
Revised March 1985
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in
cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. WILLIAM R. OSCHWALD, Director,
Cooperative Extension Service, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.