Welcome to the 2023 Farmers Market Challenge, where we’re celebrating peak-season produce with five-ingredient recipes. Head right this way for summery dinners (and of course desserts), plus plenty of pro tips.
The pleasure of peak-season produce is that you don’t need to do much to make it taste spectacular. Often a piece of ripe fruit is best eaten just as it is, but macerated strawberries are a worthy exception. This simple technique requires no heat and little work beyond stirring, and it can bring that pint of rosy red strawberries to a whole new level of juicy sweetness. All you need is some sugar and downtime.
What is maceration, anyway?
Maceration is a process in which produce (usually fruit) sits in a flavorful substance (usually sugar, vinegar, or juice), tenderizing the ingredient and intensifying its natural flavors. Stone fruits, berries, and even tomatoes can benefit from maceration, to concentrate their sweetness and soften their texture. Sugar maceration is well-suited for strawberries because its hygroscopic properties draw out the water in the berries, creating a syrupy juice. As the berries macerate, they gently collapse, forming a jammy consistency that is ideal for spooning over ice cream, yogurt, or cake.
How to macerate strawberries
Macerating strawberries is an incredibly simple process: All it takes is a little time. Start with washed and dried berries, with their stems removed. Strawberries can be left whole (great for eating straight or topping yogurt cake or cheesecake) or cut into smaller pieces (lovely for strawberry shortcakes or ice cream sundaes).
Sprinkle 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar per 1 lb. strawberries, stir to combine in a large bowl, then cover and refrigerate the mixture for at least 30 minutes. The amount of time the berries macerate depends on the size of cut (bigger pieces need more time) and the desired outcome (do you want them a little crisp or super tender?). Strawberries left to macerate in sugar overnight will be very soft with lots of liquid, but even just 30 minutes is long enough to yield some juice and slouch the berries.
If you’re feeling so inclined, you can add some bonuses along with the sugar. This Strawberry Pavlova recipe calls in a splash of lemon juice, a dab of lemon zest, a drip of vanilla extract, and a pinch of kosher salt. Feel free to change up the citrus to lime or orange, or swap in almond extract instead of vanilla. You can use exact measurements, as in the recipe above, or just eyeball it. Make sure to keep the seasoning quantities modest, so the strawberries can shine.
Once you feel confident with sugar maceration, don’t hesitate to experiment. Try maple syrup or brown sugar for a richer, maltier flavor. Or turn to a vinegar like balsamic, white wine, or apple cider for a more subtly savory outcome. Even a pinch of freshly ground black pepper would be great.
Can you use other berries instead of strawberries?
Maceration is a great technique for all kinds of berries, including blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. For smaller, more delicate fruit like raspberries, you won’t need to macerate as long (try 15 minutes to start) and the fruit will break down more, creating a sweet-tart syrup that’s also delicious stirred into sparkling water or cocktails.
The Strawberriest PavlovaSweet strawberries work double-time in this peak summer dessert: simmered into a jammy sauce and macerated into a towering topping.