THE strawberries are ripening so it must be summer. Although I do write recipes for strawberries, I must admit I still believe the best way to eat them is when plucked from the plant and still warm from the sun. Nothing tastes quite so good as that first strawberry when eaten seconds after it has been picked.

If you are unable to grow your own, at least your can pick your own from one of the many PYO farms scattered around South Oxfordshire. Or, if that's difficult, try buying at the farm gate or from a farmers' market.

What you are looking for at this time of the year are strawberries still pulsing with life. Those wrapped in cling film sitting on a cold shelf in the supermarket could be several days old, they could have even travelled thousands of miles to get here. Some come from as far away as South America.

One very good reason why locally farmed strawberries are best is the number of different varieties that are available. The strawberries sold in markets are usually Elsanta, which accounts of 80 per cent of their sales as it travels well and looks good for longer than some varieties.

At the PYO, the Honeoye strawberry usually ripens first. This variety has a really lovely flavour and is a great way to begin the strawberry season. Then there's Hapil, a large glossy sweet strawberry, and Pegasus which has an excellent flavour. The Cambridge favourite usually ripens mid-season. This is is an older variety and far paler than more modern varieties. Because it is so juicy and sweet, most strawberry lovers declare it their favourite. Later varieties include Symphony, a high-yielding strawberry which tastes superb. Florence is a late-season strawberry worth looking out for, too, as is Sophie which is usually only found towards the end of the strawberry season.

Some PYOs have several varieties ready to pick at the same time which means you can conduct taste comparisons and choose your favourite.

Did you know that strawberries are considered highly effective in fighting oxidation activity and are rated as one of the best foods for skin care and weight loss?

For a change try adding sliced strawberries to a salad and making a citrus dressing by mixing lemon juice with the oil rather than vinegar. Eaten this way they taste delicious.

Try adding them to an avocado salad, too, if you want something different because not only does this combination look absolutely stunning, it tastes good too.

Dipping them in chocolate and serving them as an extra with coffee is a great idea, but don't serve them this way on a hot summer day or the chocolate may melt and go sticky.

Strawberries mixed with meringues and cream is a real favourite. They can either be served in a meringue shell garnished with cream, or as an Eaton Mess which calls for equal amounts of whipped cream, crushed meringue and chopped strawberries to be mixed together moments before you wish to serve the pudding course.