I never (well, almost never) buy out-of-season strawberries from the grocery store. Yes, they’re big and bright, but commercial berries are grown to withstand the rigors of transport and nearly always lack both flavor and texture. I’d rather wait for the local season, and get them when they’re lush and ripe.
I bought half a pint of deliciously ripe strawberries from the farmers’ market last week, paying the shocking price of $3 — for about 20 berries. That was just a teaser handful for the two of us. Well, I’m all for supporting our local farmers, but I just couldn’t afford as many as I wanted at this rate.
But conveniently, there are berry fields not far from here….and I love picking berries. It must remind me of my childhood in Chicago, when we had red currant and gooseberry bushes growing in the backyard. My mother handed out bowls, set up some footstools beside the bushes for us to sit on, and sent the children out to pick. With currants, it seemed impossible to fill even the smallest bowl, but an hour or so of labor from two or three of us would provide enough berries for my mother to make a batch of currant jelly or my dad’s particular favorite (from his boyhood in Germany), gooseberry pie.
The u-pick strawberry farm, however, had long rows of abundant berry plants, and I picked this box of perfectly exquisite strawberries in only about 25 minutes. Seven pounds, at $1.35 a pound, cost me just a little over what I would have paid for three half-pints — and I had plenty of berries.
Everyone knows there is only one best way to eat such luscious, juicy sweet strawberries as these : fresh. They lose a lot in cooking, so why bother?
Of course, there is always strawberry shortcake, with or without whipped cream. Or you can always simply serve fresh strawberries with the classics: thick cream, sour cream, honeyed Greek-style yogurt, vanilla ice cream. I sometimes like to set out bowls of sour cream and brown sugar for dipping.
You can toss some fresh strawberries in unexpected dishes too.
Strawberries this ripe are at their best unrefrigerated — but they won’t keep long that way — just a couple days. So I gave some away and made some low-sugar freezer jam with my bounty.
This jam is so good that Steve’s been eating it with a spoon, straight from the jar.
My box of strawberries is gone now, but I still have the memories (and the jam). Best of all, I feel as if I’ve truly tasted summer’s promising start. I’m looking forward to my next u-pick crop in the area, my favorite of all the berries: raspberries. They’re ripening as I write…..
P.S. We’re taking a driving trip east so we’ll be passing through orchard country– and there will be ripe cherries. As an former professional picker, I can’t imagine paying to pick cherries, but I certainly will be eating some, and trying out a recipe for cherry clafoutis too.