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Spring's Best Fresh Ingredients

Keep it fresh for spring with these tips for buying, storing, prepping and freezing favorite seasonal ingredients like strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb, peas and artichokes. Plus, find our best recipes for spring produce.


Strawberries

Tips for Buying, Storing & Prepping

  • Purchase strawberries that are shiny, firm and very fragrant. A strawberry should be almost completely red, though some whiteness near the leafy cap is acceptable.
  • Do not wash or hull strawberries until you are ready to use them. Instead, refrigerate the just-picked strawberries in a resealable container. Just before using, wash and hull.
  • A quick and easy way to hull strawberries is to insert a straw into the tip of the berry, push it through the other end and the stem will pop off.
  • Before freezing, remove the stems and caps, then wash and drain. Do not soak in water, or they'll lose flavor and nutrients. Dry the strawberries, then place in a resealable freezer bag or container. Try to remove as much air as possible by completely filling the containers or pressing extra air out of the bags before sealing.
  • To create a decorative fan, place firm ripe berries with stem down on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, make cuts 1/8-inch apart through the berry to within 1/8-inch of the stem. Do not cut all the way through. Use your fingers to gently spread apart the slices to form a fan.

Tips for Freezing

To freeze sweetened strawberries, slice strawberries into a bowl. For each quart of berries, add ½-cup sugar and gently stir until sugar is dissolved. Lightly crush berries if desired. Spoon into a freezer bag or container, seal tightly and freeze.




Asparagus

Tips for Buying, Storing & Prepping

  • The peak months for buying asparagus are April and May. When buying, look for firm, straight, uniform-size spears. The tips should be closed with crisp stalks.
  • In order to keep asparagus fresh longer, place the cut stems in a container of cold water—similar to flowers in a vase. Store the asparagus in the refrigerator, changing the water at least once every 3 days.
  • To prepare asparagus, rinse stalks well in cold water. Snap off the stalk ends as far down as they will easily break when gently bent.
  • Don't throw away those tough ends when trimming fresh asparagus. Cook and drain the ends, then puree them with a bit of water or chicken broth in a blender until smooth. Freeze in a resealable freezer bag for future use in soups and casseroles.

Tips for Freezing

When fresh asparagus is plentiful and inexpensive, stock up. Blanch, cool and store it covered with water in airtight containers in the freezer. When thawed, it tastes just like fresh-picked.




Rhubarb

Tips for Buying, Storing & Prepping

  • Whether at the farmer's market, grocery store or your own backyard, select rhubarb stalks that are crisp and brightly colored. Tightly store in a reasealable bag and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. One pound of rhubarb yields about 3 cups chopped.
  • When making rhubarb pie, sprinkle nutmeg or anise seed over the filling for a delightful dessert.
  • To mellow rhubarb sauce, add some chopped Granny Smith apple and a pinch of salt before cooking and sweetening.
  • If using frozen rhubarb, measure rhubarb while still frozen, then thaw completely. Drain in a colander, but do not press the liquid out.

Tips for Freezing

In the spring when at its peak, clean and chop fresh rhubarb, then place in a resealable freezer bag to use in baked goods all year long.




Peas

Tips for Buying, Storing & Prepping

  • There are two basic kinds of peas: garden peas, which require shelling, and snow or sugar peas, which have edible pods.
  • To shuck, wash pods in cool water. Snap off stem end and pull string down. Open pod by running your thumb down the length of the seam and loosening the peas. Rinse peas before cooking. Or, if using raw, blanch first.
  • Prep the ingredients for a stir-fry ahead of time by trimming and cutting your pea pods, then store them in an airtight container.
  • Peas are perfect mixed with Parmesan cheese and chopped onion sautéed in butter.

Tips for Freezing

Blanch shelled peas or pods 1 pound (approximately 3 cups shelled peas or 4 cups snow peas) at a time for 1-1/2 minutes (for shelled) to two minutes (for pods), then soak in icy water for five minutes. Drain and freeze for up to a year in an airtight container.




Artichoke

Tips for Buying, Storing & Prepping

  • To prepare an artichoke, cut off the stem at the base and cut off 1 inch from the top of the artichoke. Snip the tips of each leaf to remove any sharp thorns. Remove outer leaves around the base and stem. Rinse well. Rub cut ends of leaves with lemon juice to help prevent browning.
  • To eat an artichoke, remove the outer petals one at a time. Pull each petal through your teeth to remove the soft, pulpy portion. Discard petals. The fuzzy center portion is the "choke" and shouldn't be eaten, but the meaty bottom, or heart, of the artichoke is completely edible—and delicious!
  • Store fresh, unwashed artichokes in a resealable bag and place in the refrigerator.

Tips for Freezing

To freeze whole cooked artichokes for later use, place in an airtight container or freezer bag.