This very moment is the median peak of strawberry season across North America; were we to make a Venn diagram of different regions’ window of ideal strawberry harvesting, now is when there’s maximum overlap right in the ruby-red middle (never mind that Paste’s Amy Glynn, out in the winterless Neverland of California, recommends eating strawberries in April).
Since I eschew those hollow, crunchy out-of-season monstrosities shipped in from Mexico in January, I fall into a strawberry mania at this point of the summer, gobbling enough raw ones to give myself a small ulcer. Fortunately, strawberries do well made into condiments that can be served on top of or alongside desserts, and even certain savories—you get to concentrate their flavors and extend their woefully short shelf life. More than any other fruit, strawberries love to be preserved for those many bleak months when your local berries are AWOL. Here’s a half-dozen ways to do so.
Let’s just get the obvious of the way, shall we? Jam is such a touchstone of strawberry preservation that, when I went out to the U-Pick farm, every conversation I had with my fellow pickers went something like this: “So, how do you make your jam?”
For those of you who are loathe to be chained to a boiling cauldron of thick, lava-hot strawberry jam, don’t forget that the much less violent and messy freezer jam is an option, too. Since I am a masochist who considers Sure-Jell for the weak in spirit, I still go the confiture route, spending hours sterilizing jars and skimming hot pink scum from a gurgling vat of preserves. (Note: the bigger your batch of jam, the longer it takes to set. Double the batch means more than double the cooking time, for some reason.) But I prefer the winey flavors of the result, how glossy and deep-dark the jam is. We dole out the dozen or so half-pint jars we get out of the ordeal all year long, until we slink back to buying the corn syrup-laden store brand.
I often go with Martha Stewart’s recipe for classic jam, but there are many flavor variations you can run with if you’re feeling adventurous, including fresh oregano, vanilla bean, or lavender. Whatever the case, your house will smell intoxicatingly fruity for the following 24 hours.
For pasta sauce. No kidding. This high-heat application is much speedier than jam, and far better suited to those like to blur the boundaries of dinner and dessert (this spaghetti recipe, from the chefs of Sfoglia, is a particularly good first course).
This is a particularly good project when you only have a handful or two of berries. Some recipes call for salt in the brine, while others do not. Use them to garnish drinks, on salads, or…straight from the jar. It may sound unusual, but sweet-tart-cool pickled strawberries are surprisingly refreshing. The bonus here is that the brine left in the jar is essentially strawberry-infused vinegar, to use in vinaigrettes or whatever you like. Maybe even a shrub.
Think of a shrub as Kool-Aid for grownups. The flavor possibilities are endless (I added mulberries to mine), and it’s a perfect use for strawberries that are still edible, but on the soft and super-ripe side. Hull them, slice them, toss them with sugar, and let them macerate for a while (a lot of procedures say to do this in the fridge, but I find room temp works better for flavor extraction). Press out the syrupy juice, cut it with a mild vinegar, and you have an alcohol-free beverage to sip in the shade. Here’s a recipe, which you’ll find quite simple.
Though the yield is on the tiny side, drying strawberries in a dehydrator intensifies flavors and gives you a pliable-crisp little snack that’s a cross between fruit leather and a raisin. Here’s a general method that’s light on the labor and very generous with the dehydrating time. Take your dried strawberries on a hike, mix them with your granola, or just nibble on them like nature’s candy.
This treatment was the bee’s knees all over food blogs about five years ago, and for good reason. Roasted strawberries are way more hands-off than jam, and after a spell in a blazing-hot oven, their flavors concentrate and their textures get just a bit meaty. I prefer to make them with smallish berries, and just leave them whole. Some recipes are more syrupy liquid than others—it all depends on if you roast them on a sheet pan or in a baking dish—but when they are a little on the goopy side, they’re a fantastic, compote-like topping for your thick and rich yogurt.
Sara Bir is Paste’s food editor. Her favorite problem is having too much fruit to deal with.