Healthy, Seasonal Fruit to Enjoy: Strawberries

Strawberries. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

As the weather gets warmer in springtime, some of the earliest fruits of the season to enjoy are berries. Strawberries are among the first to pop up in grocery stores and fruit markets and they actually taste like strawberries this time of year. In most areas you can find strawberries all year round, but having to travel great distances to reach the produce aisle, they are not as tasty as the locally grown varieties when they are in season.

Strawberries are packed with vitamin C, about 160% of the recommended daily value. One serving of strawberries, or about eight strawberries, per day, may help improve heart health, lower the risk of developing some types of cancers, and lower blood pressure.

The heart-healthy and anti-cancer strawberries contain phytonutrients and potassium which helps maintain normal blood pressure. People who eat strawberries on a regular basis benefit from higher levels of folate, vitamin C, and phytonutrients in their blood, as well as the benefits of higher intake of fiber. Including strawberries in your diet may even lower the risk for developing certain diseases. A study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, found that consuming vitamin C-rich foods may decrease the risk for developing arthritis. As an everyday treat, top your Greek yogurt with strawberries and enjoy. Strawberries can also make a lovely topping for special occasion desserts, including the recipe that follows.

Strawberry Cheesecake

3 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, at room temperature

4 eggs, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup whole milk or sour cream, at room temperature

2 (9 inch) store-bought graham cracker crusts or

Homemade graham cracker crust, recipe below

Strawberry Topping, recipe below

Set out the ingredients to bring them to room temperature. Cut the cream cheese into smaller pieces and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat eggs and sugar until foamy. Add the cream cheese one piece at a time and beat until smooth. Add the vanilla extract, cornstarch and milk or sour cream and continue beating until smooth. Pour into two graham cracker crusts or prepared 9 or 10-inch springform pan. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 45 minutes over a water bath (place a large baking pan on the lower rack of your oven and fill with boiling water, bake the cheesecake on the rack above it for even baking) until lightly golden brown around the edge and set in the middle. Allow to cool completely on wire racks before topping the cheesecake with the strawberries.

Graham Cracker Crust

1 1/2 cups graham crackers crumbs

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

In a small mixing bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs and the sugar. Add the melted butter and stir until well-combined. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9 or 10-inch springform and up the sides using a measuring cup to press the crumbs evenly. You can use your hands to press the crust into place but a measuring cup gives a more even result. Fill with the cheesecake filling and bake according to the recipe.

Strawberry Topping

1-2 containers fresh strawberries, as needed

6 oz. strawberry jelly

Rinse the strawberries in cool water and set to dry on paper towels, or gently pat dry. Cut the leaves and the stem end so the strawberries will sit up on the top of the cheesecake. Arrange them on the cheesecake. Depending on the size of the berries, you may need more or less than one package to cover the top of the cake. In a small saucepan, heat the jelly just until warm enough to brush over the top of the berries and give a glaze to the dessert. Serve immediately and store any leftovers in the refrigerator for a day or two since strawberries don’t keep for very long especially when very ripe and after they’ve been washed and handled.