I have a dozen good reasons for calling spring my favorite season, and strawberries and rhubarb are at the top of the list. Here are some tips on handling these spring fruits and some easy ways to enjoy their wonderful flavor.

STRAWBERRIES- Buy fully ripened, bright red berries; strawberries do not ripen after being picked. Avoid those with white on shoulders.

- Size does not indicate quality. The largest strawberries are not necessarily the most flavorful.

- If you harvest berries at a pick-your-own patch, pick berries stem, cap and all. Pick into shallow containers so berries on the bottom aren't mashed by the weight of those above.

- To keep strawberries fresh and bright for several days, remove them from containers and arrange in a single layer on paper towels in a 15- by 10- by 1-inch baking sheet or shallow container. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

- Wash berries just before using. Place in a colander or large strainer and rinse with a gentle spray of cool water. Remove caps after washing.

- Enjoy! One cup of strawberries contain 60 calories and 150 percent of the U.S. RDA of vitamin C.

- Strawberries Brulee: In a small mixer bowl beat two 3-ounce packages softened cream cheese with electric mixer until fluffy. Add one 8-ounce carton dairy sour cream and 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Beat until smooth. Halve 4 cups fresh strawberries and arrange evenly in a shallow 8-inch round broiler-proof dish. Spoon cream cheese mixture over berries. Sieve 1/4 cup brown sugar evenly over cream cheese mixture. Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat for 1 to 2 minutes or until sugar turns golden brown. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.


- Look for cherry red or pink stalks that are firm, crisp and tender.

- Avoid stalks that are wilted and flabby or extremely thick. Very thick stalks are likely to be tough and fibrous.

- Rhubarb wilts rapidly at room temperature. Store stalks in a plastic bag in the crisper section of your refrigerator and use within a few days.

- To use, cut off and discard the inedible leaves. Wash the stalks.

- Rhubarb-Strawberry Jam: In a large saucepan stir together 3 cups diced rhubarb, 3 cups sugar and one 6-ounce package strawberry-flavored gelatin. Let stand 30 minutes. Bring to boiling; boil 3 minutes or until rhubarb is tender, stirring occasionally. Ladle into clean 1/2-pint jars, leaving 1/8-inch headspace. Wipe rims; adjust lids. Cool; store in refrigerator or freezer. Makes about 4 half-pints.