Many of my summer memories are interwoven with strawberries.
I remember June mornings finding wild berries nestled under daisies along a dusty path on a family vacation in Vermont. Elementary school strawberry festivals, with soggy bowls of berries and ice cream in the very hot parking lot. My grandmother’s crumbly and salty cookies, left over from a previous dinner, piled up with whipped cream and fruit picked on the way home on the Jersey Shore.
And now the strawberry season has finally arrived.
The quintessential summer taste, exactly when the strawberries appear, is less predictable than a summer rain. But one thing is certain: our locally grown berries are the best. Tiny, delicate and intensely tangy, this dark ruby ââfruit is decidedly different from the big red orbs from California. This year’s harvest is even tastier than ever, given our long period of scorching sun and abundant heat. While dry, warm growing conditions are not ideal for farmers and pickers, these factors influence the taste of the fruit. Less humidity in the fields results in berries with concentrated flavors and firmer textures, perfect for drizzling with cream or tossing in a crunchy green salad.
As far as we know, the first wild strawberries were harvested for the drugs prescribed in ancient Roman literature. The whole plant has been brewed to treat depressive illnesses. The French introduced strawberries to their gardens and kitchens in the late 1300s. From there they flourished across Europe and made their way to our region as seeds in the pockets of German settlers.
While wild strawberries are perennials, which come back year after year, most farmers plant a new crop in early spring. June strawberry varieties produce fruit for three weeks. Day-neutral varieties – which refer to a plant’s sensitivity to light – will flower and fruit all summer long. Thanks to the University of Minnesota’s strong seed breeding program, we will see more of these berries in our farmers’ markets and co-ops in the sunny days to come.
The local berries are grown for flavor, not for travel or spending weeks in storage. It is best to devour them as quickly as possible (leaving the field or in the box when returning from the farmers’ market is perfectly acceptable). To store, transfer the strawberries to a flat plate or baking sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper and put them in the refrigerator. Do not remove the caps or rinse them until you are ready to use them; the cap protects them from moisture and damage.
And don’t throw those tops away! They are packed with a sweet berry flavor. Use them to brew vinegar, kombucha, or vodka. Simply wrap the lids in a glass jar with a lid and add enough liquid to cover. Screw the lid on and let the jar sit for a day or two, strain the liquid, discard the lids and enjoy. You can also mix these tops into smoothies (like you would spinach or kale) for a superfood boost.
If there is no shortage of strawberry dessert recipes, there is also a salty side to this pretty red fruit. It brightens up chicken salad and adds color and a sweet touch to any crunchy green salad. Make a simple basting sauce by combining the berries with chili peppers and vinegar to brush the grilled pork. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar on the strawberries for a strong flavor addition and serve with creamy brie.
Want to jam? The best tip is to put the berries in a saucepan, sprinkle with sugar and let them sit overnight before simmering them in a rich jam. I give up adding pectin because the fruit thickens naturally when it is simmered. (Pectin can make it look rubbery.)
To freeze strawberries, put them on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer until good and hard, then slip them into a freezer bag. They keep for six months, around the time you want to make jam when the winter winds are blowing. You can also throw frozen strawberries into the blender for a quick strawberry sorbet. Or use them in place of ice cubes in lemonade, iced tea, and sparkling drinks.
Old Fashioned Strawberry Shortcakes
Makes 9 cookies for 6 to 12.
Note: The classic strawberry shortcake is built on a cookie, made with lots of butter, which gives it a tender, crumbly texture. If you are serving 4 to 6, halve the amount of strawberries and sugar, and adjust the amount of whipped cream. Or enjoy the breakfast cookies reheated, smeared in butter and loaded with fresh strawberry jam. By Beth Dooley.
â¢ 8 ch. strawberries, tops removed and sliced
â¢ 1 to 2 tbsp. honey, or more to taste
â¢ 3 bedrooms. cake flour or all-purpose flour
â¢ 1 C. salt
â¢ 1 tbsp. baking powder
â¢ 3 tbsp. cut sugar
â¢ 6 tbsp. cold butter
â¢ 1 C. cold milk or buttermilk, or more as needed
â¢ 1 C. heavy whipped cream
â¢ 1 C. vanilla
In a medium bowl, toss strawberries with honey and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder and 2 tbsp of sugar. Work the butter into the flour mixture using a fork, pastry blender or your fingers. (Or, put the flour mixture in a food processor and add the butter.) The mixture should be as crumbly and even as breadcrumbs.
Pour the milk over the flour mixture and mix quickly until the dough comes together. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more milk, a tablespoon at a time.
Using your hands, lightly shape the dough into golf ball-sized balls and place them on the baking sheet, tamping them lightly with your palm to form a disc about 1 inch d. ‘thickness. Lightly brush the cookies with a little cream. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Take out of the oven and let cool on a rack.
In a small bowl, whip the cream, vanilla and remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar until soft peaks form.
To assemble the shortbread cookies, divide the cookies in half and distribute the cream and then the strawberries evenly over the shortbread cookies. Use immediately.
Strawberry ice cream (without churn)
For 6 to 8.
Note: This simple recipe does not require any cooking or special equipment. All you need to do is crush the berries, whip the cream and freeze lightly. This recipe should be prepared ahead of time to allow time in the freezer. By Beth Dooley.
â¢ 2 bedrooms. strawberries, tops removed, and more for garnish
â¢ 1 can of 14 oz of sweetened condensed milk
â¢ 2 tsp. vanilla
â¢ Pinch of salt
â¢ 2 1/2 tsp. heavy cream
In a large bowl, use a fork to mash the berries. Add condensed milk and mash again until well combined; the mixture should be smooth. Stir in the vanilla and salt. Put aside.
In a medium bowl, whip the cream until medium peaks form. Add about 1/4 of the whipped cream to the strawberry mixture and stir into the berries to combine. Gently fold in the rest of the whipped cream in 2 or 3 additions. Pour it into a 9 x 9 inch pan and roll it out in an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap, gently press the wrap into the surface and transfer to the freezer.
Freeze mixture until firm, about 6 hours. Let soften at room temperature, about 10 minutes, before picking up. Serve garnished with additional fresh strawberries.
Strawberry Spinach Salad with Lemon Basil Vinaigrette
For 4 to 6.
Note: tangy and sweet, this makes a nice side salad and a light main course served with rough country bread. By Beth Dooley.
â¢ 3 tbsp. olive oil
â¢ 1/4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
â¢ 1 tbsp. chopped basil, plus more for garnish
â¢ 12 to 14 ounces. fresh spinach
â¢ 2 bedrooms. fresh strawberries, tops removed
â¢ Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
â¢ 4 ounces of goat cheese
In a large bowl, combine the oil, lemon juice and basil. Add spinach and strawberries and toss gently to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Unmould onto a serving platter or individual plates and garnish with a few wedges of goat cheese and garnish with additional chopped basil.
Beth Dooley is the author of “The Perennial Kitchen”. Find it on bethdooleyskitchen.com.