These plump, sweet, berries are nutritional jewels: Rich in dietary fibre and offering good amounts of vitamin C (more than any other berry) and manganese, strawberries are also an excellent source of ellagic acid, a phytochemical that helps combat carcinogens. They are also a good source of antioxidant flavonoids, such as anthocynanins. The strawberry is technically a "false" fruit because it grows from the base rather than from the ovary of a flower, and so is not a true berry.

For best flavour, buy strawberries when they're in season where you live; they'll undoubtedly be riper and tastier than berries that have been transported in from distant regions. Also, the closer the berries are to the market, the less damage they're likely to suffer in transit, ideally pick your own at one of the numerous farms.

Choose strawberries very carefully; they are often packed in opaque boxes that may conceal inferior fruit beneath a display of perfect specimens on top. If the box is cellophane wrapped, your best bet is to examine the berries you can see, and check the box for dampness or stains, which indicate that the fruit below may be decaying. If the box is not wrapped, you can remove a few of the top berries and peek beneath. Check, too, for twigs or other debris (there shouldn't be any).

Strawberries should be plump, dry, firm, well shaped and uniformly colored. Don't purchase berries that are withered or crushed. The berries themselves should be a true, rich red (although the shade of red differs among varieties). Pale, greenish, or yellowish fruit is unripe and will be hard and sour. The leafy caps should look fresh and green.

Strawberries are highly perishable; they can turn soft, mushy, and mouldy within 24 hours. When you bring home a box of berries, empty it out and check the fruit. Remove any soft, overripe strawberries for immediate consumption; discard any smashed or mouldy berries and gently blot the remainder dry with a paper towel. Return the berries to the box, or, better yet, spread them on a shallow plate or pan and cover with paper towels, then with plastic wrap. Freezing: Strawberries freeze well, allowing you to enjoy them practically year round.

Pick over strawberries, discarding any bad ones. Keep the caps of strawberries intact until after they're rinsed and drained, as the opening left by the removal of the cap will allow the berries to absorb water. Rinse the fruit, drain, and gently pat dry.

Frozen berries need not be thawed before using them in recipes, but extra cooking time may be necessary. Commercially frozen berries do not require washing, but home-frozen berries, which should not have been washed previously, should be quickly rinsed under cold water.