The Tao Of Strawberries (and our favorite recipes)
It’s finally May, after what felt like the longest, drag-on-forever-est winter on recent record. (I feel bad saying that, when so much of the country just had endless amounts of snow and the weather here was mild, but when I say “long winter” I mean psychologically, you understand.) There were points where it felt like this school year would just never end. And now the finish line is plainly in sight; the kids only have about a week to go. Exam stress is winding down. Summer plans are ramping up. My vegetable garden—my favorite summer hobby, mostly because the only thing I enjoy more than eating is eating yummy stuff I grow myself—is well on its way to producing a bounty. But most wonderful of all: the strawberry farm is open.
I don’t know that I can explain the depth of my love for strawberry season. I love strawberries (obviously) and as treats go, you don’t even have to feel guilty about ’em—they’re low-calorie, loaded with vitamin C and manganese (no, I have no idea why we need manganese, but apparently we do), and studies suggest they may lower inflammation and stabilize blood sugar levels. I care about all of that a lot less than I care about that fact that strawberries are delicious, and in a “I’ll go the supermarket and not think about where this came from” world, I love that we’re supporting a local farm every time we get our yearly fix on. During peak season we’ll go over there a couple of times a week and pick a few gallon buckets’ worth, and I always mean to freeze most of them, but then we eat them. And that’s fine, because then we can just go pick some more.
Understand that picking strawberries in Georgia sounds like idyllic family fun, but in reality we’re talking about being out in a big field in 90+ degree heat and about six thousand percent humidity (perhaps a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one). It’s hot. It’s sticky. There are bugs who want to bite you and bugs that hide on the underside of perfect berries so that when you turn over a real beauty, you discover half of it gone. This is just part of the process. It’s not relaxing or glamorous. And—try to contain your shock—sometimes the kids complain. When they were little, arrival at the farm meant unbridled enthusiasm and joy for about ten minutes. That then gave way to “It’s too hot” and “Are we done yet?” and “I’m bored.” Now that the kids are teenagers, I’ve discovered something wonderful: The key is to take them one at a time.
So last week when my daughter had a morning exam, I picked her up after and we went picking. It was hot and sticky but we brought ice water and she took lots of selfies (“strawberry picking > school!!!”) and the joy of sanctioned hooky was enough to carry her through. On the ride home, after we finished oohing and aahing about how good the air conditioning felt, her guard came down a little and she talked about all sorts of things. I mostly listened. It was a great day. The last time I took my son, he filled his bucket with amazing speed considering that he stopped to show me every “interesting” berry and talked nonstop the entire time. That was also a great day.
Back at home, I often find myself alone in the kitchen when it’s time to wash, slice, and portion the berries (some for eating plain, some for baking, some for freezing, some for popsicles and sorbets and ice cream). The kids wander off to other pursuits, and I get lost in the methodical repetition of lopping off tops and making uniform slices out of irregular shapes. It’s okay, though. Once I’ve made something delicious, they’re back again. They may not be as chatty as they were before (it’s hard to talk with your mouth full of berries…), but I’ll take it. Besides, once we eat everything, we have to go picking again.
Here’s a few of our favorite recipes if you find yourself in a glut of strawberries. (And if you don’t find yourself in a glut of strawberries, I suggest rectifying that immediately.)
The most classic use of a bounty of fresh strawberries is shortcake, of course, and call me biased towards our hometown culinary hero, but I think it doesn’t get any better than Alton Brown’s shortcake recipe. It’s a basic shortcake, and what I like about it is that it’s not sweet—you don’t need it to be, because you’ve got the berries and whipped cream. It’s simple and easy and perfect.
If you want a cake you don’t have to feel guilty about having for breakfast, try this strawberry buckle recipe. It’s basically a strawberry coffee cake, and I’ve been known to add some rolled oats, even, to punch up the nutrition a bit. (Alternatively, if you, like me, can’t eat gluten, I love this gluten-free “crustless pie” recipe and it’s simple enough to use strawberries instead of apples. Just omit the cinnamon or sub with a bit of ginger.)
I just made this strawberries and cream cake for the first time this weekend and the kids loved it. It’s a little bit fussy to make your own strawberry puree and strain out the seeds, but the resultant cake is full of strawberry flavor (and is a gorgeous, moist sponge-type cake). Don’t want to futz around with perfect layers and piping the cream? Do what I did—I baked it as a 9″ x 12″ and then cut it up and made a trifle, layering cake, strawberries, and fresh whipped cream in a giant bowl. There were no complaints.
Again, if you want to go with the classic, the no-brainer here is Ben & Jerry’s strawberry ice cream. It’s delicious and perfect.
If you’re wanting something a little bit different, well, did you know that strawberry and basil is an amazing combination? And remember how I said my veggie garden is in? I always have tons of basil, and I love it with strawberries. So we mix up regular strawberry ice cream with this strawberry-basil frozen yogurt, which is really a health food you know, because yogurt. And if we need a change from dairy-based stuff, I also love this strawberry basil sorbet, although over the years I’ve discovered I prefer it with a generous shot of lime juice rather than the lemon suggested.
Finally, I don’t remember how I found this recipe or how long it took me to get over how gross it sounds, but trust me, it’s incredible and I have no idea why, because plain buttermilk is just gross. Nevertheless, I give you: Strawberry buttermilk ice. I know, it sounds weird. It’s delicious and tangy and refreshing. It also freezes really hard, so I recommend making this as popsicles.
If you haven’t eaten all your strawberries and your freezer is full, my favorite granola recipe is Michael Ruhlman’s strawberry-banana one, and that’ll use up some more berries and give you many delicious breakfasts. (This granola also freezes well.)
If you have a favorite strawberry recipe, please share! I’m always looking for new things to try, and we have a lot of berries.