By Carl Hanson

Plump and perfumed, sweet strawberries, picked at their peak, are summer's perfect food. When they're so gorgeous, it's almost impossible to resist buying baskets and baskets of berries. Problem is, they don't stay like that for long. Strawberries are a fragile fruit. And right away after picking, the delicate fibers begin to break down. People, the clock is ticking.

This 5-day schedule will help you plan what to do with your enormous cache of fruit, even as the super freshness fades.

Day 1

Caring for them properly is key. First things first, set aside a bunch for freezing. Pop them in a plastic bag and place them in the freezer. We'll revisit them on Day 5. Set aside a second batch to eat NOW!

For the rest, place a paper towel on the bottom of a glass container with a lid. Add a row of unwashed strawberries. No crowding! Then lay down another layer of paper towels. And another row of berries. Put the lid on and refrigerate. Here's more great advice on how to keep your berries from getting funky before their time.

Otherwise, this is a day for eating them right out of hand. They are nature's candy. At this point, there's not even the merest hint, not a possibility, that these berries could go bad. Nothing so perfect could ever turn on us.

In this brief period of denial, gorge away, with Champagne if you like. Or dip the plumpest berries in chocolate ganache. Have a ball!

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Photo by Cathy Van de Moortele

Day 2

The berries are still fresh and full of glory. For breakfast, pile them onto pancakes, crepes, oatmeal, yogurt, and waffles. For lunch or dinner, put them on a green salad with a little balsamic dressing.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

Photo by MyHotSouthernMess

Strawberry Shooters

Now while the berries are beauties, treat them to a little amaretto.

Photo by Deb C

Day 3

It may be subtle, but we sense a tenderness. The bloom is coming off the rose. And we have an inkling of the end. We start to contemplate the cycle of life and the cruel brevity of it all. But please, let's snap out of it -- we have berries to eat before they go bad!

These slightly tender berries can be cut up and added to yogurt. Or else...

Strawberry Goat Cheese Bruschetta

A word from Chef John: "The way the tangy, slightly salty goat cheese works with the syrupy, balsamic-coated strawberries and crispy, charred bread is a thing of beauty."

Photo by Jennifer Baker

PRO TIP: As you're topping your berries, save the crowns and add them to water. It gives the water a wonderful, mild strawberry flavor.

Day 4

The tender places are bruises. We understand and are coming to terms with the end now. It's OK. Beauty fading, it is now OK to chop up and puree the berries for soups and such.

Strawberry Soup a la Kiev

Photo by lutzflcat

Rhubarb and Strawberry Pie

You know what else can handle berries that are slightly past their peak? Pie.

Photo by Stephanie L

Strawberry Soda Syrup

Turn your fading fruit into delicious strawberry syrup for tea, lemonade, and amazing homemade strawberry sodas.

Photo by Chef John

Day 5

The frozen berries you had the good sense to stuff into the freezer on Day 1 give us hope for the future. Or maybe they remind us of reincarnation. Or cryogenics. Whatever it is, frozen at their freshest, they will not disappoint in a delicious smoothie. And if you still have fresh berries hanging around and looking a little worse for the wear, turn them into a shrub.

Mongolian Strawberry Orange Juice Smoothie

Photo by Holiday Baker

Looking for more recipes for all your fresh strawberries? Check out our collection of Strawberry Recipes.