Savoring The First Strawberries

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Heritage Home Grown Sweetness

Though strawberries start appearing in supermarkets in early April, most of these hothouse products are huge and tasteless. By mid May, the first locals (which appear from now into June) arrive, ephemeral treasures to be cherished. Smaller and less showy than those super-sized California girls, the sweet little strawberries-next-door may be plain Janes but boast richer flavors and brighter perfumes. Berries of all kinds thrive in the maritime Northwest, and strawberries are no exception. June bearing strawberries produce a single crop and many runners, each of which can become a new plant. June bearers are often planted in wide beds and allowed to create new colonies after the fruit has been harvested. By planting early, mid, and late fruiting varieties, June bearers will fruit for about four weeks. Plant your starts about 12-16″ apart with the crown at soil level, choosing a spot in full sun with rich, well-drained soil.

Everbearing and day-neutral strawberries produce two to three flushes of fruit in bursts, from early summer into autumn. Both are good candidates for growing in strawberry pots near the kitchen, where a happy handful can quickly be gathered to brighten a salad or sweeten a dessert. Longer lived than June bearers, they are less prolific with runners, so coddle those that do appear to replace your original plants which will exhaust themselves in a few seasons. Tiny alpine strawberries, diminutive but prolific Everbearers, are just right for edging a path or tucking into odd corners.

Celebrating Strawberries

Here on Bainbridge Island, strawberry season has been celebrated for over a century, kicked off by the appearance of local fruit and culminating in our Filipino community’s election of a lovely young Strawberry Queen, who gets to ride a float in our lively small-town Fourth of July parade, practicing her flat-handed queenly wave. Local strawberries are 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.

Best In The West

Here on the West Coast, the earliest strawberries include Earliglow, a sweet, juicy June Bearing favorite with excellent form and flavor. Honeoye is also an early bird June Bearer, though it needs a full year to settle in. Once established, you’ll harvest copious quantities of fat, tangy fruit. For early to midseason fruit, consider Chandler, a very productive variety with succulent, colorful, wedge-shaped berries. Surecrop is another tasty June Bearer, with especially firm, plump fruit that freeze well. These sturdy, disease-resistant troopers need a season to get started but produce lavishly their second year.

Outstanding among Everbearing strawberries, Ogallala is especially hardy and tough. Like many others, this one is a light fruiter the first year but kicks it up to serious production in year two. Delicious in salads and smoothies, the juicy berries are red clear through, without the white hearts of many modern hybrids. Sequoia, also Everbearing, ripens earlier than average, with glossy, sweet berries with that classic conical shape. Sequoia also hits its stride in its second year, and often sends out scads of eager runners, each tipped with a wannabe baby plant. Day Length Neutral Seascape is notably disease resistant and highly fruitful, offering extended harvests well into August once established.

Strawberries On The Table

Refrigeration may keep berries fresher longer, but cold air starts converting sugars into starches, which makes ripe strawberries (or tomatoes) taste flat. For best flavor, serve strawberries the day they are picked and at room temperature. Freeze fresh strawberries whole on flat baking sheets, then transfer them to tightly sealed freezer containers. They’ll taste best if used within three months but save some to make jam or smoothies in winter and they’ll be fine for such purposes.

What might you do with your daily harvest? For a quick and delicious dessert, serve freshly picked strawberries with a sprinkle of freshly ground nutmeg and brown sugar. Garnish summery soups with sliced strawberries and slivered green onions. Add quartered strawberries to green salads and dress with a white balsamic vinaigrette. Stir a cupful of chopped strawberries into sourdough waffle or pancake batter. Or, of course, you can make smoothies!

Strawberry Breakfast Smoothies

1/2 cup ice cubes
1 pint ripe strawberries, hulled and cut in half
1 ripe banana
2 cups coconut, almond or oat milk (or any milk)
1-2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons finely chopped mint
few grains sea salt

Grind ice in a blender, add remaining ingredients and puree until creamy. Serve cold. Serves 2.

Strawberry & Greens Salad

This summery salad is also lovely with raspberries or Loganberries.

8 leaves of Butter or Boston lettuce
1 cup finely shredded Swiss chard, golden or red
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
12 fresh strawberries, sliced and fanned
1 teaspoon capers, drained
2-3 ounces fresh goat cheese
Fresh Strawberry Dressing (see below)

On four salad plates, arrange lettuce and top with chard and red onion. Fan berries on each plate and top with capers and goat cheese. Drizzle with dressing and serve. Serves 4.

Ripe Strawberry Dressing

1 cup chopped strawberries
1/3 cup avocado oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic or cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

In a food processor, combine all ingredients and puree until smooth. Makes about 2/3 cup.

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 plumped for these light, flaky, slimmed down shortcakes, which gain flavor, fragrance, and a tender crumb from whole wheat pastry flour.

Perfect Strawberry Shortcake

6 cups strawberries, hulled & quartered
1-2 tablespoons brown 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 (or any) pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon cardamom or nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter OR coconut oil
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.


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