Want to take a guess at what's the most popular berry in the world? Turns out it's the strawberry.
And, as Liz Crenshaw reports from Fifer Orchards in Camden, Del., the sweet, red berry has more to offer than great taste.
Scientists say consuming strawberries is a good thing. There is strong evidence that strawberries are a heart-protective fruit, an anti-cancer fruit, and an anti-inflammatory fruit all rolled into one ripe treat.
Strawberries may even help protect your eyes from macular degeneration and your body from rheumatoid arthritis.
But getting these delicious treats to your table is a complicated task.
"Strawberries are a fickle, fickle plant," Bobby Fifer, a fourth-generation farmer at Pifer Orchards, says. "If it's too cold, you got problems. If it gets too hot, you got problems. If it's too wet... I mean, it's just, strawberries like to be dry, but they like to be watered, so we do the drip. [The] foliage never gets wet."
Then there's the picking.
"Handpicking is still the best way. You have to be selective," says Ed Kee, Delaware's Secretary of Agriculture. "There are green ones and ripe ones on at the same time. You need to handle them carefully. And here [at Pifer Orchards], they're basically picking them and packing them right in the boxes to be refrigerated and ready for the market."
The strawberries at Fifer Orchards were planted last fall on a four-acre patch. Each plant will produce about a pint and a half of berries, or about 12,000 quarts per acre.
Each picker goes through an area only picking the ripe berries and leaving the green ones for another day. They can gather 12 quarts of ripe strawberries per hour, or about a thousand quarts a day for the crew.
The strawberries are then boxed right in the field, meaning these are the pickers' hands are the last that will touch these berries until you pick them up at the store. And with strawberries, speed is of the essence.
"[They're] very perishable. You know, if they're picked right and handled right they probably have a good shelf life of three to five days, but the sooner they're consumed the better," Pifer says.
What's the best way to store your strawberries? Unwashed, in the refrigerator. You can also cut off the green top, wash them and then freeze them for later use.