The Succulent Strawberries of May

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Savoring Home Grown Sweetness

Strawbetties-labelAfter the rush of imported strawberries in early May, the first locals (which appear from now into June) are to be treated like ephemeral treasures. Smaller and less showy than those super-sized California girls, the sweet little strawberries next door have a richer flavor and a brighter perfume. Berries of all kinds thrive in the maritime Northwest, but Tristar, Tillicum, Shuksan, and Hood are classic high producers in regional gardens, all very easy to grow.

Here on Bainbridge island, strawberry season is still celebrated by the Filipino community’s election of a Strawberry Queen, who gets to ride a float in our terrific small-town Fourth of July parade. It’s also passionately welcomed by the whole community as folks flock to our local, family owned Town & Country Market for the season’s first local berries. Most come from the Sakuma Brothers farms, run by former island families who found larger fields on the main land, but some are still grown on small island farms that date back to the days when Bainbridge Island was called the fruit basket of Puget Sound.

Dessert First

Although nothing beats eating sun-warm strawberries straight from the garden, these enticing fruits lend themselves to a wide range of treatments, from sweet to savory. After eating a few day’s worth of naked berries, I’m ready for a few classics. For many years, my family has celebrated the start of local strawberry season by enjoying strawberry shortcake for dinner. There are, of course, many versions to try, but after a fair amount of playful experimentation, I’ve settled on these light, flaky, slimmed down shortcakes, which gain flavor, fragrance, and a tender crumb from whole wheat pastry flour.

New Strawberry Shortcake

6 cups strawberries, hulled & quartered
1 tablespoon sugar or maple syrup

Combine in a bowl and set aside to macerate for at least 15 minutes.

1 cup organic heavy whipping cream
1-2 teaspoons sugar or maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon real vanilla extract

Whip cream to soft peaks, add sugar and vanilla and whip for 10-15 seconds more. Set aside.

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon cardamom or nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup milk (almond if not cow)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Combine dry ingredients in a food processor and blend for 5 seconds. Add butter and process for 10 seconds or until evenly distributed. Transfer to a bowl and stir in milk, starting with 1/2 cup, adding just enough for the dough to form a ball (not too sticky). Pat into four rounds 1/2 inch high and bake at 450 until golden (12-15 minutes). Cool for 5 minutes, then split in half like a bun, using a fork, and fill with berries and cream. Serves at least one.

A Better Ambrosia

I have several dear friends who love old fashioned Ambrosia, a sugary Southern fruit salad made with sweet coconut and bananas, not to mention horrible little marshmallows (sometimes dyed in scary pastels). For a more refreshing and far more wholesome dessert, I use fresh strawberries and toasted flakes of unsweetened coconut instead.

New Fashioned Ambrosia

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
2 juice oranges, peeled and chopped
2 cups fresh pineapple, chopped
2 cups strawberries, hulled & halved

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place coconut on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant and pale golden (6-8 minutes), set aside. Combine fruit and any juices in a serving bowl and serve chilled or at room temperature, garnished with coconut. Serves 4-6.

A Savory Side

You can even turn this Ambrosia into a savory side dish by adding pine nuts and freshly ground pepper or grains of paradise for a balancing bit of bite; it’s equally delicious either way.

Savory Ambrosia

1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
2 tablespoons pine nuts OR walnuts
1 large juice orange, peeled and chopped
1 cup fresh pineapple, chopped
2 cups strawberries, hulled & halved
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper **

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place coconut and nuts on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant and pale golden (6-8 minutes), set aside. Combine orange, pineapple, and strawberries in a serving bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve, garnished with coconut and nuts. Serves 4.

** Freshly ground grains of paradise will give this lovely side an unusual, slightly spicy flavor.

A Slightly Fishy Dish

If the idea of strawberries and fish seems weird, consider the classic couplings of sole and grapes, or neo-classic raspberries and chicken. Quickly made and delightfully savory, Strawberry Chutney makes the most of any unassuming white fish (it’s also good with Petrale sole or rock fish). Spoon a little of the garlic-butter pan juices over brown rice or Quinoa for a delicious side dish.

Dover Sole With Strawberry Chutney

1 pound fillet of sole, cut in 3-inch pieces
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 batch Strawberry Chutney (see below)

Arrange fish in four equal stacks, sprinkling each layer with salt and pepper, set aside. In a wide, shallow pan, melt butter with garlic over medium high heat to the fragrance point. Add fish in four stacks, reduce heat to low, cover pan and cook until opaque (internal temperature of 136 degrees F, about 6-8 minutes). Serve hot with pan juices and Strawberry Chutney. Serves four.

Why Not Strawberry Chutney?

Spunky with garlic and piquant with sweet onion and mint, fruit chutney is lovely with poached salmon, and can be tossed with tuna or flaked white fish and served in cups of crisp Butterhead lettuce for a delicious entree salad.

Strawberry Chutney

1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
1/2 Walla Walla sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 cups strawberries, hulled & quartered
2 teaspoons coconut aminos OR cider vinegar
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and let stand at least 10 minutes. Serve at room temperature. Makes about 2 cups.

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One Response to The Succulent Strawberries of May

  1. abhaya says:

    I love your addition of cardamom to the shortcake. It always gives that subtle, slightly mysterious floral note to anything. Will be trying this very soon!

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