By Kathryn McLean

Did you know that May is the start of local strawberry season in Ontario? Some of us may look forward to fresh asparagus or rhubarb or even fiddleheads, but small, sweet, local strawberries are popular with nearly everyone!

And local seasonal berries are worth looking forward to. Whether you go berry picking with family or friends or seek out these fresh berries at the supermarket, you’ll notice the difference to the ones available year round.

Fresh local berries are quite small, deep red in colour and very sweet. They’re perfect on their own, but you can use them in so many other ways, too.

Consider purchasing Ontario strawberries this May and try them in one of these ways:

  1. Fresh strawberry milkshake (with vanilla ice cream to highlight the strawberry flavour)
  2. Wash, trim and slice the berries; add a squeeze of lemon or orange juice and toss to coat the fruit in the juice, creating the simplest of fruit salads
  3. Chop the berries into pieces and add them to pancake or muffin batter
  4. You can top toast with sliced berries, in place of jam
  5. Add strawberries to a tossed green salad with cucumber and nuts
  6. Slice the berries and serve them alongside (or for topping) pancakes, waffles, French toast, or a Dutch baby
  7. Serve fresh berries with whipped cream

Do you know how simple it is to prepare traditional strawberry shortcake? Traditional strawberry shortcake is not the same as the popular bakery versions with a strawberries-and-cream filling between two vanilla layered cakes.

Strawberry shortcake is simply a slice of light sponge cake, though vanilla cake or pound cake will do, topped with a large spoonful of freshly whipped cream, and topped with a generous serving of sliced fresh strawberries toppling over the sides.

And my final suggestion: simple jam.

Delicious, sweet strawberry jam

This recipe is perfect if you want to prepare a small jar of jam to eat within two weeks’ time.

However, this will not work for preserving numerous jars of jam because you would need special equipment and specific timing for boiling the filled and sealed jars to prevent bacteria from growing.

To make strawberry jam, measure just about equal amounts of strawberries and granulated sugar.

Use a single small basket or container of local berries, rinsed, and stems removed. Roughly chop the berries and measure them. You’ll probably have about 2 cups.

Tip the prepared berries into a pot. Then measure the equal amount of sugar. Because seasonal berries are naturally sweet, I suggest using a little less sugar. So if you have 2 cups of berries, try 1½ cups of sugar.

Add the sugar to the pot with berries, stir and put the pot on the stove over medium heat. The berries will start to break down and release their juices. The sugar will melt and combine with the juices in the pot.

Continue to stir every minute or so. Once everything is cooked down and the berries don’t hold their shape, let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes.

Begin checking the thickness: spoon a drop full of the saucy mixture on a dish, wait a few seconds and tip the dish. Does the jam stay in place nicely or run quickly? It should be fairly stationary; not solid but not too liquid-y.

Imagine if you spread the jam you just tested onto a piece of toast. Is that consistency what you’d want?

Continue cooking and checking or remove from the heat, depending on how thin the jam is. The longer it simmers, the thicker it will become.

Remove the pot from the heat and carefully transfer the jam to a jar with a tight-fitting lid or similar container with a tight top. Store the jam in the fridge.

Use fresh jam that hasn’t been properly canned within two weeks.

And savour those seasonal strawberries for as long as you can find them!