Strawberries fresh from the ground

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(Host) Babies who aren’t allergic to strawberries seem to be able to eat them nonstop. Ruth Page explains how health-giving this can be – for all of us.

(Page) What’s plump, red, luscious, adaptable to many recipes, and health-giving? Strawberries, now in season right here. I call the strawberries shipped to New England from California or Florida in our off-season, “strawberry substitutes.” They can’t even approximate the juicy tang of berries grown here. Shipped berries have to be chosen for their firmness and toughish skins, so they’ll travel well.

Vermonters can grow a wide variety of strawberries, and they all have so rich a flavor, I’ve seen two-year-olds at pick-your-own fields, blissfully grabbing for them with both hands. Babies pay scant attention to the state of the berries – ripe, starting to spoil, whatever – and it never seems to bother them. We used to haul our grandbabies, strenuously objecting, away from the strawberry patch after they appeared to have consumed a couple quarts in a matter of moments. We feared it MUST be too much of a good thing, but we never saw a bad result.

Among the fruits that give us ellagic acid, which helps prevent some carcinogens from damaging our DNA, strawberries are tops. Other berries, plus plums, grapes and Brazil nuts are also ellagic-acid-containing foods, great for the unlucky folks who break out in hives if they eat strawberries.

Did you know you can use a tiny amount of bleach (one-half teaspoon to a gallon of water) to wash berries, and other fruits and vegetables, to cut the small risk of food-borne illness from them? Then just rinse them with clear water, and serve. Researchers at the University of North Carolina report that the wash reduces levels of potential contamination from hepatitis A virus, or from bacteria such as E. coli. The danger of such contamination is small, so most of us don’t make this effort – but all of us should at least rinse fresh foods well in clear water before serving them.

If you get pick-your-own foods in spring and summer, how are you clothed? If you’re in shorts and short-sleeved tops, you are absorbing Vitamin D from the sunshine while you pick. Sunburn is certainly not advisable, but by golly you’re getting a nutrient that otherwise only comes from cod liver oil or vitamin D-enriched milk. Scientists have studied women in Lebanon, who like others in the Middle East usually are completely covered except for their eyes. More than 60% of these burka-clad women have subnormal levels of vitamin D. That can lead to bone loss in later years. So rub on some sun-screen and get out there and gather your own fruits and vegetables when you can.

When you get home after a tiring morning bent double picking strawberries, have the perfect lunch: buttered toast covered with asparagus, followed by a bowl of strawberries and cream. Remember when you pick or buy asparagus, the thicker stalks are much the tenderest.

I’m getting hungry. This is Ruth Page, enjoying the start of Vermont’s finest eating season: local foods fresh from the Earth.

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