It’s nearly the middle of June, the kids are finally out of school, summer heat is creeping into the Upper Midwest, and the strawberries are ripening.

There’s so much to be excited about this time of year as gardens begin to produce their early produce such as strawberries. They are at the top of my favorite summer treat list.

When our kiddos were little, we started a tradition of going to a local farm to pick strawberries each summer. The first few years I spent more time keeping the kids corralled between the rows of plants in the strawberry beds than I actually did picking strawberries, but it became a fun tradition nonetheless. It helped that a wonderful bakery was just next door, so the promise of a baked treat and pound cake to spoon the strawberries over added to the excitement and cooperation.

Now I fear that my years of having helpers assist me in the strawberry patch are numbered. Our oldest is not home at all this summer and our middle one is preparing to leave for college this fall while trying to make the most of her summer social and work time. For now, I still have the youngest and lucky for me she loves strawberries and treats from the bakery!

Before we head out to the strawberry patch, here are some fun facts provided by the Illinois Extension Service at extension.illinois.edu:

• More than 53 percent of 7- to 9-year-olds picked strawberries as their favorite fruit.

• Eight strawberries will provide 140 percent of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C for kids.

• Native forms of strawberries adapt to various climates and are indigenous to every major continent except Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

• The fruit size of the very early strawberries was very small.

• Seventy percent of a strawberry's roots are located in the top three inches of soil.

• Strawberries are the first fruit to ripen in the spring.

• One cup of strawberries is only 55 calories.

• There is a museum in Belgium just for strawberries.

• Strawberries are a member of the rose family.

• The flavor of a strawberry is influenced by weather, the variety and stage of ripeness when harvested.

• On average, there are 200 seeds in a strawberry.

• Ninety-four percent of U.S. households consume strawberries.

• According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the annual per capita consumption of fresh and frozen strawberries is 4.85 pounds.

• Strawberries are grown in every state in the U.S. and every province of Canada.

• California produces 75 percent of the nation's strawberry crops. According to the California Strawberry Advisory Board, California strawberries are available January through November, with peak quality and supply from March to May.

• If all the strawberries produced in California in one year were laid berry to berry, they would go around the world 15 times.

• Lebanon, Oregon's annual strawberry festival, is home to the world's largest strawberry shortcake.

• Americans eat 3.4 pounds of fresh strawberries each year. Although strawberries are available in many forms — frozen, jam and jelly, and ice cream — nothing compares to the taste of a fresh vine-ripened strawberry.

• Strawberries are delicate, requiring gentle handling to prevent bruising. With today's shipping technology, strawberries are available year-round, but at a cost. Commercial growers have produced resilient hybrid berries known for their shipping quality.

• Florida is second in production. Florida’s season runs from December to May and peaks during March and April. To meet the demand, winter strawberries are usually imported between November and May.

Janelle Thomas can be reached at janellethomas@charter.net.

No Bake Strawberry Cheesecake Lasagna

2½ C graham cracker crumbs, divided

1 stick butter, melted

8-oz package cream cheese, softened

1 C powdered sugar

2 8-oz containers frozen whipped topping, thawed

16-oz container fresh strawberries, divided

In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. Firmly press into a crust in the bottom of 9-by-13-inch glass or porcelain dish, let it chill in the freezer for about 10 to 15 minutes to firm up.

In a large bowl, combine the softened cream cheese, powdered sugar and 1 container of the whipped topping. Stir well to combine. Spread the mixture evenly over the cooled crust.

Set 5 to 6 whole strawberries aside for decoration. Wash, hull and slice remaining strawberries. Layer the berries evenly on top of the cream cheese mixture.

Top with the remaining container of whipped topping. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. Top with the remaining whole and chopped strawberries, and sprinkle with graham cracker crumbs, before serving.

If the strawberries aren't sweet enough, add the 1/4 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a bowl with sliced strawberries. Mix well and set aside. Do not forget to drain the strawberries, before placing them on. Recipe and photo courtesy of sugarapron.com.

Strawberry Balsamic Crostini

1 pint fresh strawberries

1 C ricotta (or any cream cheese)

2 Tbsp basil leaves, finely chopped

1 Tbsp chives, finely chopped

1 French baguette or similar artisan country bread, cut in 1/2-inch-thick slices (8 to 10 slices)

2 to 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/4 C honey

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut strawberries into slices. Set aside. In a small mixing bowl combine ricotta, basil and chives. Stir to combine thoroughly then set aside.

Toast bread in a toaster or under the broiler of oven (or on the grill), until golden brown.

Assemble crostini by layering each piece of toast with the herbed cheese and sliced strawberries.  Add a drizzle of honey and balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Garnish with chives and chopped basil before serving. Recipe and photo courtesy of eatwell101.com.

Strawberry-Pineapple Salsa

1 pineapple, peeled

1 lb strawberries

2 Roma tomatoes, diced

1/2 red onion, minced

1/2 jalapeño, minced

1/3 C fresh cilantro, chopped

1 lime, juiced

1/2 tsp salt

Remove the peel and core from the pineapple and dice the fruit into small, 1/4-inch cubes. Place into a large mixing bowl.

Hull the strawberries, and dice into small, 1/4-inch pieces. Add to bowl with pineapple.

Dice the tomatoes into 1/4-inch pieces as well and toss with pineapple and strawberries. Add minced onion and jalapeño to bowl along with cilantro, lime juice and salt. Stir to combine.

Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Keeps in the refrigerator 24 hours. Makes 8 servings. Recipe and photo courtesy of thestayathomechef.com.

Strawberry Upside Down Cake

1/2 C sugar

2 Tbsp cornstarch

4 C fresh strawberries, quartered

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the cake batter:

2 C all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

4 large eggs, room temperature

1½ C sugar

1/2 C butter, melted

1/2 C vegetable oil

1 C whole milk, room temperature

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Grease and flour a 10-inch round cake pan very well and preheat oven to 350 degrees. A large 9- or 10-inch tube pan or a 9-by-9-inch baking pan can also be used.

If the strawberries are large, quarter them, but if smaller, just cut them in half. The 4-cup measurement is for the berries after they have been chopped.

Mix the cornstarch and 1/2 cup sugar together and sprinkle over the strawberries along with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Toss together well and spread evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan.

To prepare the cake batter, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar at high speed until very foamy. Mix together the butter and vegetable oil in a measuring cup with a spout.

Slowly add this butter and oil mixture to the egg and sugar mixture as it continues to beat. Stir the vanilla extract into the milk.

Fold in the dry ingredients alternately with the milk. When alternating wet and dry ingredients, always begin and end with the dry mixture. Pour the batter over the strawberries in the baking pan.

Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before inverting onto a heatproof serving plate. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Recipe and photo courtesy of rockrecipes.com.

Surprise Strawberry Cupcakes

Favorite white cake mix

Strawberries

Cheesecake frosting (recipe below)

Follow the directions on the cake mix box for cupcakes. Bake. Let cool. While those are baking, make the easy cheesecake frosting. (Recipe below.)  

Once cupcakes are cool, size up a nice strawberry and cut the top off so it’s flat on top. Take cupcake, and using a small paring knife, cut out the center of the cupcake to fit the strawberry.

Using a large star icing tip, pipe the icing in a giant swirl on top of the cupcake, covering up the strawberry. Recipe and photo courtesy of thatswhatchesaid.net.

Cheesecake Frosting

8 oz cream cheese

2 Tbsp butter

1/4 C powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 C marshmallow fluff

In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until blended and creamy with a mixer. Add vanilla and powdered sugar. Beat until incorporated. Add marshmallow fluff and fold in the mixture by hand. Spread on cupcakes or use piping tip and bag to frost cupcakes. Makes 24 cupcakes.

Notes: If using an icing tip and piping bag, it is helpful to chill the frosting before decorating. The icing will keep its form/shape better. Recipe courtesy of thatswhatchesaid.net.