Every Spring I look forward to two things of the verdant variety. First is planting my pot garden (that still amuses me; for the easily scandalized among us, I am referring to my vegetable container garden) and the second, more reliable, is strawberry season. I start trolling the pick-your-own farm websites at the beginning of May and then give a week or two to clear out the scary die-hard pickers (those folks that come in with their own containers, jam and jelly on their minds, and a sense of territory that would put a pit bull to shame).
This year, with the late ripening of the berries coinciding with baseball season and the dreaded strawberry festivals bringing hordes of nibblers and row blockers to any free weekend days, I took a solo Friday drive an hour west to Mackintosh Fruit Farm in Berryville, Va., to enjoy a quiet morning of strawberry picking and, lucky me, asparagus harvesting of the last of the season’s spears. Though this year’s berries were smaller than I’m used to, they were much darker, sweeter, and juicer. I ended up with a bit over eight pounds which after hulling and taste-testing ended up just at eight. Nice when things work out that way.
The first recipe I always make is strawberry ice cream. Though I’m not a huge fan of commercial ice cream and generally stay away from the stuff most of the year, there is something utterly amazingly fabulous about homemade ice cream made with fresh picked strawberries. This year I used the Pioneer Woman‘s recipe which filled my Cuisinart ice cream maker twice. It was a solid recipe, easy to follow, and beat out – to my taste buds – my old standby which is the New York Times Master Ice Cream. That being said, the NYT recipe is more manageable (read: fits in one batch) and is an excellent jump-off recipe for all sorts of frozen loveliness.
PSA: Before we go on, please realize that, gasp! egad! pick-your-own anything has been grown in dirt, in pretty constant contact with bugs, and probably sprayed with something of the pesticide sort. Them’s the facts. Wash your produce. Wash it well. I filled my OCD-scrubbed kitchen sink with cool tap water and 1/2 cup of white vinegar and then gently added the berries. I left them to float, swirling them gently every few minutes, for fifteen minutes. After that, I lifted them by handfuls, rinsing them under cool water, making sure there were no hitchhikers of the flora or fauna sort, and then laying them in a single layer on a roll’s worth of paper towels spread over my counter. This may seem like precious work but once picked, strawberries have the shelf life of an issue of People Magazine with Kim K’s arse on it, so this step is really worth the time.
The second recipe that I made this year was a fluke and I am so glad I found it. Roasted strawberries. Sounds … um…. like a weird way to pay homage to those lovely fresh little jewels of June? Proceed with abandon! You will be pleased. The flavor becomes intensified, almost like a jam, but retains a fresh sweetness. The texture softens the berries but they retain their shape and don’t go all to mush.
ROASTED STRAWBERRIES: Put one pound of washed, hulled, halved berries into a 9×13 Pyrex baking dish with parchment lining the bottom and going up the sides, sprinkle them with 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, 1 tsp. of vanilla extract, toss them all together and spread to a single layer, and bake in a 325 degree oven for one hour.
Next up was strawberry limeade. Some months ago, I was at Costco and bought a 600 lb. bag of limes on sale for $2. I may be exaggerating somewhat but not by much. I just couldn’t pass up the deal, brought it home and then spent the next four days zesting and juicing the damn things. After the margarita quota had been met for 2016, I froze the remaining juice and zest (separately, natch) and have been holding onto the juice for just this moment. Into my trusty Whizerator 5000 (aka the Vitamix), I tossed 1 cup of frozen lime juice, 3 cups of washed and hulled strawberries that I had put in the freezer for a few hours, 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 cup of cold water. I whizzed it all up until the strawberries were smooth and the sugar had dissolved. I then poured it into my pitcher and added another three cups of water. This ratio worked this time; it all depends on the fruit you’re working with. I like to start off super tart and intense and then work to sweeter (more sugar) and diluted (more water) as taste dictates. If you can stand even more wonderfulness and if’n your resident teetotalers have gotten their fill, add a snootful of vodka to your glass. And then go sit outside. Enjoy. You are welcome.
Onward and upward! You’ll find that when you make the Pioneer Woman’s ice cream you end up with a whole bunch of egg whites that you can either pitch (for shame!) or turn into an angel food cake. I guess there’s the scrambled option but, erp, why. A Palooza requires singular focus and angel food cake goes with strawberries, folks. Those roasted strawberries need a mate and Alton Brown’s angel food cake fits the bill. Bonus: with fruit and egg playing starring roles, this cake makes a terrific breakfast. But hold off until day after tomorrow for this morning treat because tomorrow, you’re going to be making …
STRAWBERRIES AND CREAM BISCUITS! This was a fortuitous find from Smitten Kitchen (a fabulous food blog that has solid recipes that never fail to join the clean plate club). I was thinking maybe strawberry pancakes or waffles and then, as though guided by Ceres, came across SK’s recipe. The rest is history. My people enjoyed theirs alongside omelets. I, in my infinite desire to sacrifice for their well-being, passed on the ova and just enjoyed mine with strawberries on the side. These biscuits required no adornment. They were delicious and are now in my strawberripalooza list of must-makes. Just a quick aside that I needed to add quite a bit more cream than the recipe called for to the recipe (not surprising when you’re working with flour and fruit that have varying amounts of moisture).
On the final day of Strawberripalooza 2016, I saved a bowl of the berries for nibbling and then froze the few remaining pounds so that we could keep the flavor going a few weeks longer. With the second batch of ice cream ripening in the freezer, I decided to play with the flavors of the ever-popular-for-Valentine’s-Day chocolate-covered strawberry. Using bittersweet chocolate helped keep things from going over to the cloying side. This recipe for hot fudge sauce hit the perfect balance of flavor and texture. The only change I made was to use Lyle’s Golden Syrup instead of corn syrup. I have the stuff in the house because one locust loves it on pancakes (note to you syrup luvvas). This sundae was a hit and the fudge sauce (which there is plenty of) would make cardboard taste good.
As we close the chapter on this year’s Strawberripalooza, I’d like to give a nod to those bits and pieces of leftover wonderfulness that I worked damn hard to create. Much like the little red hen, when I do all the work, I am loathe to just toss things without giving the old kitchen try. So here is what happens when you have one leftover strawberries and cream biscuit that happened to be tucked away, nick two wee scoops of the fabulous strawberry ice cream and then add a spoonful of the bittersweet fudge sauce. Pretty nice treat for a solo lunch. Who needs a tuna sandwich?!
Now I really do need to go ride my bike a great long while to work some of this off. Here I come, Albuquerque.