Category Archives: summer

Salmon and greens

It’s a wonderful combination, of both colors and flavors.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s a thrill when the Copper River salmon comes in from Alaska.  I like to buy the leaner and less-costly sockeye, though king is wonderful too (but costs twice as much) — and we’re fortunate to have such a good fish store in town.  It’s always worth getting the freshest possible fish.

Grilled salmon is a great summer treat — but we don’t have a grill (and it’s one of many prohibitions our landlords have imposed). Fortunately, I discovered a new way of cooking the fish that keeps it moist and flavorful.

Actually, it’s not really my discovery, nor is it new. In fact, it seems as if nearly everybody’s been cooking salmon this way–but it’s new to me: the slow method, which I apply to so many other foods. In this case it’s the slow roast at a temperature I rarely use: 250 degrees. The low heat makes it that much harder to commit the cardinal sin of overcooking fish.

It’s done!

For a half-pound filet, just put on a light slick of oil on the fish (1/2 a teaspoon or so), some herbs (chopped thyme, chives, dill, basil, cilantro — really anything you like) and some lemon zest if you wish, salt and pepper. Then pop it in the oven, skin side down, until it’s flaky — 15 or 20 minutes or maybe more (start checking after 15 minutes). If you want to cut down the time a bit, you can start cooking in a skillet (skin side down) until the skin is crisped, then move it to the oven.  One thing about this way of cooking: the fish won’t be really hot when you serve it.  Cooked, yes, but hot, no.

There are so many choices for fresh greens this time of year.  I had a nice bunch of bok choy from Terra Verde farms and I cooked it up with some chopped garlic and ginger.

I was feeling so virtuous after I ate this healthful dish that I decided I could have dessert: a light version of lemon panna cotta I’d made the day before.

Want the recipe? Go to my lemon blog and click the page on top labeled ‘Sweets.’ I’ve posted both the full fat creamy version as well as the lighter virtuous version.

By the way, this is a good a time as ever to tell you that my forthcoming book, Lemon: A Global History, is now up on Amazon and my press’s website. It won’t be out till September but you can take a peek at the contents now.

Meanwhile,  if you have some salmon left over, and some nice fresh lettuce and arugula (or any other kind of salad greens), you can keep enjoying that  salmon/green theme.

Today’s lunch!

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Filed under dessert, salad, summer, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables

Salads, salads, salads

Lately, it’s salads for lunch and, often as not,  more salads for supper.

Contrast is important in a salad: textures, tastes–and colors.

The dark pinks and magentas of red onion, beets, purple cauliflower or red cabbage look stunning against vivid greens.  The salad above was a basic green salad with different types of very fresh lettuce (thank you, Martha) and some marinated red onions, which are simply made by cutting the onion in half, slicing thinly, tossing on some salt and a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar and some peppermint, dried or fresh (minced). Let the onions marinate for an hour before serving.

Here’s some more salads I’ve been enjoying lately:

Multi-colored couscous, yellow peppers, cucumber, garbanzos, green onion, feta, kalamata olives, mint

I dress most of the salads in my basic olive oil-lemon juice-salt mixture, but sometimes I use vinegar or lime juice in place of the lemon juice.

Beets in balsamic vinegar with feta, walnuts, cilantro

Arugula with fresh figs, walnuts, Parmeggiano shavings

Kale salad with corn fritters

Check out the corn fritters on Alexandra’s wonderful cooking blog. They’re delicious. (I made a couple changes — used low fat Greek-style yogurt instead of full fat and green onions in place of a shallot.)

Bean salad: cannellini beans, green and yellow string beans

Potato salad with tuna in olive oil, green beans, red onions, lemon zest

Spinach salad with feta cheese, toasted walnuts, kalamata olives. And bread.

Green beans with red onions, celery and toasted walnuts

The salad above was inspired by Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, with some changes. The almonds sounded great, but Steve is allergic to them, so it was toasted walnuts, again — and my version of the red onion.

Watermelon salad with feta cheese, fresh mint and lime

Sometimes the salad doesn't even get mixed up in the bowl....

A favorite farmers' market vendor

I get most of my vegetables from the farmers’ market,  farm stands or generous friends….

My latest fascination is purple cauliflower

I made a quick pickled cauliflower by slicing thinly and rubbing the pieces with salt -- and the color was terrific

I served it alongside more of those corn fritters and Castelvetrano olives. A bit of cheese and bread, of course.

A little kitchen chemistry: I discovered that if you squeeze lemon juice on cooked purple cauliflower it turns from lavender to a vivid magenta color….

Confetti salad: bulgur, purple cauliflower, carrots, green beans, peas, green onions, basil--or was it cilantro?

That was the inspiration for a new salad…. “What’s this called?” Steve asked. I’ve heard the name Confetti Salad applied to other colorful concoctions, so I’m sure this will fit in the confetti category.

I'm already thinking about the variations I'll make....

What’s your favorite salad these days?

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Filed under Praise for other cooks, salad, summer, Uncategorized, vegetables

Picnics (and more) on the road

Picnic in Wilbur, Washington

We recently returned from yet another great road trip to Montana. We’re not big meat eaters, so dining out is always a challenge in the interior West. As an alternative (and an economical one too), we ate a lot of picnics on the road.

A windy picnic along Highway 12, between Miles City and Baker, Montana

Here’s what we were eating (along with some dust):

The multi-grain bread, from a bakery in Miles City, Montana, was terrific

Our picnics were pretty basic: bread and cheese, sometimes some green onions, cucumber or carrots, and fresh fruit. But they were good and relatively healthy. The challenge was to find good bread and fruit. In light of that, I came up with a couple of rules for the road:

1. Never pass up a good bakery (you may need to search for one)

Le Petit Outre bakery, Missoula, Montana

Focaccia from Missoula made a great accompaniment to salad in our motel room in Davenport, Wash. on the return trip.

2. Never pass up a fruit stand or farmers’ market.

A great fruit stand in orchard country, Orondo, Washington

Missoula has a wonderful farmers' market on Saturdays. My friend Kathy also recommends the Livingston farmers' market on Wednesday afternoons.

I did a lot less cooking than last year’s motel cooking extravaganza, but I still brought along the important supplies: electric tea kettle, cutting board, knife, can opener, lemon reamer, bulgur, olive oil and salt, which resulted in some nice salad dressings (my basic lemon, olive oil and salt dressing is good on nearly everything) and a couple of bulgur-vegetable salads.

Bulgur salad with plenty of vegetables (along with bread from Anjou Bakery in Cashmere, Wash.) was a good change from the bread & cheese combo.

Our picnics often took place outside a motel room.

Beer before dinner at the Stardust Motel in Wallace, Idaho

I put together this meal of bulgur salad and tuna in the "rustic" Highlander Motel in White Sulfur Springs (W.S.S.), Montana.

We tried eating outside the motel room, until the mosquitoes emerged.

As for eating out, a couple times we indulged in a milk shake as a meal replacement.

Chocolate-espresso shake at Butterfly Herb, Missoula

Steve particularly likes going out to breakfast, but after some disappointing breakfasts at promising-looking cafes, I came up with a guideline for telling when a place might be most likely to fulfill that promise: If a cafe offers hash browns or home fries made from scratch, rather than slabs of processed frozen spuds, there’s a better chance of a good breakfast.

(Apparently the phrase “home cooking” these days includes a lot of processed foods, so it’s not a good indicator.)

The Dizzy Diner in Terry, Montana, used frozen hash browns, but Steve liked his breakfast anyway. I only had a cup of coffee here.

The Corner Cafe in Creston, Washington, makes their hash browns from scratch. I complimented the cook.

In regard to breakfast, another aspect that helped me out was bringing along a good stash of homemade granola.

On the way home, we stopped again at that fruit stand in Orondo, Wash.

We bought cherries and apricots. And honey.

Breakfast at home the next day was mighty good too!

 

p.s. Some places it’s easier to find good picnic food — I really like this post about picnics in Europe.

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Filed under bread and pizza, breakfast, fruit, musings, summer, Uncategorized

Fast food (and good for you)

When it’s 6 o’clock and I don’t know what we’re going to have for dinner, I turn to some seasonal vegetable to inspire me to make a quick one-dish pasta supper. The other night asparagus did the trick, along with some fresh mint, a few fresh fava beans I’d cooked up (another night I substituted frozen peas, much simpler and also good), and some garlic and green onions.

But this is more of a basic method than a recipe: take some sliced or chopped vegetables, some type of garlic or onion or both, some minced fresh herbs if you like. If you want more protein, you could add cooked beans, chicken, fish or shellfish.

Saute the vegetables, garlic and onions in a generous amount of olive oil. If you’re using beans or chicken or fish, cook them beforehand and add after your vegetables are nearly as tender as you like them, just to re-heat.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta al dente (or however you like it) and drain it, reserving several tablespoons of the cooking water. If you use whole wheat pasta, as I did here, you can feel extra virtuous about your fast supper. (Actually, I like my ratio of veggies-to-pasta to be a little higher on the veggies than it turned out in the photo above.)

Add the cooked pasta to the pan, along with the pasta-cooking water as needed. Some like to use cream here to make a richer dish, and Cathy made a delicious version with leeks, asparagus, and a little half-and-half.  You can also add some grated hard cheese, such as parmesano or peccorino, or a soft melty cheese such as Roquefort or chevre for an entirely different flavor.

Add the fresh chopped herbs if you have them (basil is always great, but I really liked the freshness of the mint in this combination) at the end to keep their flavor. Some lemon zest would be good too.

Stir it all together and add more salt if it needs it. After you serve it up you can sprinkle the dish with more fresh herbs or grated cheese or toasted breadcrumbs as they do in the south of Italy. Or nothing at all.

I bet a lot of readers make some version or other of this vegetable-pasta already. What’s your favorite?

Buon appetito!

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Filed under fall, spring, summer, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables, winter

End of summer……..

"Peaches in a White Ceramic Basket," Fede Galizia, c. 1600-1605

Well, summer is nearly officially over, a poignant marker. There’s something a little sad about the turning of seasons. Goodbye to summer’s great bounty, to all those things you didn’t do or wish you could do again….

I never wrote “Summer Fruit, part two” which was supposed to be about peaches, plums, nectarines, more blackberries, and such. I never made a peach pie, which is rather shocking (though I am still eating fresh peaches, and with all the peach varieties, you can eat peaches from mid-summer to early autumn).

But I did eat rhubarb well into August and  I did make some of those nice dill pickles in brine, with fresh dill. I had a good summer kitchen day with Aviva: She made canned pickles and the two of us made a nice big batch of blackberry jam.

Aviva surveys results of the pickle-and-jam marathon

Grey days and rainy weather are setting in again, and there never were enough warm sunny days here this summer — but I just returned from the Midwest, where people were complaining about too many hot days!

Mario's Lemonade, Chicago

In Chicago, we went to Mario’s Lemonade on Taylor Street,  just before the stand closed for the season– how’s that for marking the end of the summer? And we talked to Mario, who has never used a computer or a credit card, and still sells a small iced lemonade for only $1.

Delicious icy lemonade, complete with rind

Back home, on a cool day, and still thinking about lemons, I made a simple supper of roast chicken, bulgur pilaf and green salad.

The roast chicken with lemon is one of the many slow-roast dishes I make in cool weather (that’s most of the year here): You set the oven to 300 degrees, stuff one or two lemons (pricked all over with a fork, to let the juices out) into the cavity, put a little olive oil over the chicken and sprinkle salt and pepper and paprika on the top, then let it roast for 2 1/2 or 3 hours.  You can baste a lot, or not, turn the chicken over halfway through or not — the long slow cooking will make it tender and juicy. Let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes before you cut it, and squeeze the lemon juice over it.

And the salad of course, had a simple olive oil-lemon-salt dressing….

For dessert? Now, the blackberries have sadly come to an end, but before they were gone, I discovered an easy dessert with some leftover pie dough I had: mini pies in ramekins.

I just mixed the berries with a little sugar and lemon juice and a bit of cornstarch to thicken, then cut a couple circles of dough with my biscuit cutter and laid them on top, brushed with a little milk and sprinkled sugar on top.  I turned the oven to 400 degrees and baked till the tops were golden. I bet this would work with frozen berries too.

"Apples and grapes" Claude Monet, 1880

Now it’s time to welcome those fruits of fall!

The Jewish harvest festival of Sukkos is just around the corner, and one of its primary symbols is the citron, or esrog (or etrog), the ancestor of the lemon. It’s considered a sacred fruit, and does indeed smell divine, but is not too good to eat….

What I always want to make and eat around this time of year is a simple yeast dough covered in delicious and beautiful Italian plums. Soon I will be making Zwetchgenkuchen!

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Filed under baked goods, dessert, fall, fruit, summer, supper time, Uncategorized

Lemonade — the taste of summer

Lemon crate label, circa 1934, from Corona Public Library citrus crate collection

I’ve been too busy to cook much lately. But not too busy to make fresh lemonade.

Mostly I’ve been at my desk,  working on my book, Lemon: A Global History, which will be part of a series of books on food history, published by Reaktion Books in London. (It’s called the Edible Series). These little hardback books with yellow covers are lovely– they have lots of beautifully printed illustrations, and even some recipes in the back.

So naturally, in the course of my research,  I’ve come across a lot of information about lemonade. The first written recipes for  lemonade were published in a kind of medical cookbook in 12th century Egypt. As you might imagine, they haven’t changed very much from the ones we use today–that is, if we make it from fresh lemons (which is, in my humble opinion, the only way to make it!)

Lemonade vendors in Paris carried the beverage in metal tanks on their backs

In warm climates, where both lemons and sugar grow naturally, lemonade has always been popular. It wasn’t till the seventeenth century that working folks in northern Europe could afford lemonade, though, as both crops were expensive and exotic imports for a long time. Around 1630, when the price of sugar declined, lemonade became all the rage on the streets of Paris.

In America, lemonade was introduced by the Shakers (who loved lemons altogether and also made a special lemon pie) and Italian immigrants, especially the Sicilians who came to New Orleans in the late 1800s. The temperance crowd adopted it as a favored non-alcoholic drink for a few decades, and pretty soon it was a welcome sight on front porches, at picnics, fairs and circuses.

Lemon crate label, circa 1900, from Riverside Public Library citrus crate collection

You can always combine lemon juice, sugar and cold water to taste for your lemonade, but as long as you’re making the real thing, I recommend that you also use the rind. It has a lot of flavor. Here’s a simple way to take advantage of it:

  1. Take between 2 to 6 lemons and scrub the skins well to remove any wax (If you can, buy unwaxed or organic lemons and just wash them).  Cut them in half and juice them, for 1/2 cup of juice. Set aside.
  2. Put 1/2 cup of sugar in a wide-mouth jar, and add 1 1/2 cups of boiling water. Stir until sugar is dissolved; then put the leftover lemon shells (rinds) in the jar — they should be submerged.
  3. After 20 or 30 minutes, remove the rinds, squeezing out any liquid into the jar,  Add the lemon juice and 1 cup of cold water. Chill and serve in tall glasses over ice, with a fresh slice of lemon.


Tips: You can easily double this recipe. You can keep the rinds in the batch of lemonade if you don’t care about appearances; or you can add thin slices of lemon to your pitcher if you want it to look pretty. You can add mint or other flavors or red fruit juices (raspberry, watermelon, strawberry) for pink lemonade….the possibilities are endless.

For an extra special (and strong) lemonade treat, freeze some lemonade in ice cube trays and use those lemonade-cubes in each glass (yes, this takes a little planning).

Here’s a recipe for one glass of lemonade from the 1904 Blue Ribbon Cookbook:

Lemonade should be made in the proportion of one lemon to each large goblet. Squeeze the lemons and take out any seeds. If you do not like the pulp strain the juice. Sweeten the drink well though that is a matter of taste. The pleasant tart taste should be preserved. Add water to the juice and when serving put cracked ice and a thin slice of lemon into each glass.

P.S. It’ll be about a year before my book is out, but meanwhile, you may be seeing quite a few lemon recipes here!  I also have a lemon blog which hasn’t been updated in a while, but if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s here.

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Filed under fruit, musings, summer, Uncategorized

Keeping it simple

It’s hot here — finally. I know the rest of the country has been baking, but it’s taken till mid-August for it to feel like summer around here. It’s not the best time to be turning on the oven, and we don’t own a grill, so besides making the usual bulgur salads, I’m cooking a little less and keeping things simple.

Who says you can’t have a meal of mostly vegetables along with a good slice of bread? (I love carbs). Corn on the cob, new potatoes, fresh string beans with a little lemon zest….to me, that’s a great summer supper.

This was my idea of a buffet lunch: crackers and cheese, marinated artichokes and olives, melon and blackberries, and a little salad of green beans and garbanzo beans with red pepper and lemon and olive oil dressing.

About the most complicated (i.e. not very) dish I made recently was a lemon-basil recipe that I adapted from Nigel Slater.

I love what Slater writes about lemons:

“Few sights lift the spirits like a crate of lemons with their glossy leaves intact. Lemons are as much a part of the kitchen as pepper and salt.”

I didn’t have linguine so I made it with fettucine in the photo above. Delicious, but the linguine is even better at soaking up the sauce — I tried it later. I’m still adjusting the recipe proportions, so if you try it and think it needs a little more or less of something, please let me know.

Lemon and Basil Linguine (serves 2)

  • 1/2 pound of linguine
  • grated zest and juice of one large lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup grated Parmeggiano or Pecorino cheese
  • handful of basil leaves, torn into small pieces
  • salt and pepper

Bring a big pot of salted water to the boil and cook the linguine until done (7 or 8 minutes).

Meanwhile, put the lemon juice, olive oil and zest in a warm bowl and whisk till emulsified; then add the torn basil and the cheese and whisk again. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the linguine, and toss together with the sauce until each strand is coated evenly with the sauce. Serve immediately.

I made this version without the cheese, and added some sauteed chicken pieces and cherry tomatoes

Pasta cooks quickly so it’s a good choice for a summer evening, and this is also a nice way to use fresh basil especially when those fresh tomatoes are in short supply….

One could finish such a supper with the best summer dessert of all: fresh fruit (with or without vanilla ice cream).

Bowl with Peaches and Plums, Giovanna Garzoni (1600-1670)

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Filed under fruit, summer, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables

Road trip kitchen

Stardust Motel, Wallace, Idaho

So, here we were, all set for a great road trip through the West, from Bellingham, Washington, to Eastern Montana.

No, we weren’t camping out; we were staying in motels, and we found lots of great old-fashioned motels–many of them very spacious, often with refrigerator and microwave–costing $60 a night and under. Many of them also had wonderful nostalgic signs, like the one above.

On the road near Moses Coulee, Washington

Swell sign, but I wouldn't recommend this motel in Harlowton, Montana.

The only thing I was worried about was the food situation.

Sure, there were plenty of cute signs for cafes and burger joints — but not much that I could tolerate eating, certainly not day after day.  Beyond burgers and fries, some cafes offered specialty foods such as fried “prairie oysters”– i.e., bull testicles. No thank you.

We split a milkshake here at Billy Burgers, Davenport, Wash.

Fortunately, I had packed my Honda Fit with the supplies needed for some basic food preparation on the road.

The basics: classic picnic basket and a small cooler

The little orange cooler I bought at Target was perfect for keeping a pint of milk, some cheese and a couple containers of salad, fruit or vegetables…. I had one of those little hard plastic freezer-packs that I used whenever our motel room had a refrigerator (a surprising number of them did), and a Ziploc bag for putting ice from a motel ice bucket when there wasn’t a fridge. Some silverware, a sharp knife and a small cutting board all fit into the cooler’s pockets….

We were ready for Montana!

Melon chunks were great for snack or breakfast

Since we didn’t take an airplane, we didn’t have to worry about taking a sharp knife along. That made it possible to cut melons and other in-season fruits and vegetables available (if not always in prime condition) in central and eastern Montana.

Cantaloupe and cottage cheese looked good in blue enamel dishes I bought in Harlowton, Montana, for a couple bucks each.

If you ever find a good bakery on the road (it's rare), snap up that bread! This delicious loaf was purchased at Le Petit Outre in Missoula and eaten in Helena, Mont.

You can "cook" some foods without a kitchenette if you bring an electric tea kettle....and you won't be breaking motel rules.

The brightest idea I had was to bring along our electric tea kettle. It’s the perfect choice for the do-it-yourself motel kitchen.

I also took a bag full of  uncooked bulgur. When I wanted to make a salad, I put some in a glass container, poured about 1 1/2 times the amount of boiling  water over it and covered the mixture for about 20 minutes.  I also brought some olive oil, a lemon reamer and Microplane zester for ease of squeezing lemon juice and grating zest, some cans of organic garbanzo beans, salt and pepper.

That was the basis of the bulgur-bean salad with olive oil/lemon dressing. Then I just added chopped vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, red peppers, etc. In the above photo, I “cooked” broccoli by cutting it into small pieces and pouring boiling water over it in a glass container. It worked!

Roundup, Montana

Thanks to that electric kettle and the ingredients brought from home, we had a pretty darn good dinner at the Big Sky Motel in Roundup.

The Ak-Mak crackers (I brought a big supply) made up for the lack of good bread at this point. Steve wants you to know that these crackers come from Sanger, California.

They filmed part of "The Horse Whisperer" at the Lazy J Motel in Big Timber, Montana.

There was a nice picnic table at the Lazy J, but too many mosquitoes to enjoy eating outside.

Altering the vegetables gave a little variety. The one pictured above had chopped fresh greens, green onions and tomatoes.

This is why they call it "Big Sky Country"

Honestly, this road trip wasn’t only about bulgur salads and motel signs….

Gates of the Mountains, on the Wild and Scenic Missouri, where Lewis and Clark came in July, 1806

Archie Bray Foundation ceramics center, Helena, Montana

4th of July rodeo, Harlowton, Montana

Badlands and grasslands between Circle and Fort Peck, Montana

Badlands, Makoshika State Park, Glendive, Montana

Western decor in the Kempton Hotel, Terry, Montana

Cemetery above Anaconda, Montana

Granite County jail (still used), Philipsburg, Montana

Near the end of the trip, we even ventured out for some meals.

Steve devours the "Middle Man breakfast" and a cup of mud at the Dizzy Diner, Terry, Montana

Steve was very content with his breakfast, but I wasn’t too happy with mine. They wouldn’t make a poached egg, so there was a greasy fried one; the hash browns came from the freezer, the decaf coffee was watery and tasteless, the toast was bland bread with icky margarine. Ugh. Steve says I’m too picky. I guess so.

Later, a woman in a shop in town informed us that we should try the omelets in the same cafe.

“They crack and stir the eggs themselves,” she said.

Huh? What did they usually do?  Use powdered eggs or eggs in a carton?

The Badlands Cafe, Terry, Montana

We did enjoy The Badlands Cafe, though, where you could actually get a pretty nice salad with grilled chicken, along with a piece of garlic toast.

Another salad for the road

I was kind of glad to get back to the bulgur salads. A little tedious maybe, but at least I could count on them.

Palouse country, near Oakesdale, Washington

From Steptoe Butte, near Oakesdale, Washington

Salad again, picnic at Steptoe Battlefield, Rosalia, Washington -- no mosquitoes!

A very nice motel (and a bargain at $53.50) in Colfax, Washington

We spent our last motel night at the Siesta Motel. We’ve been home almost a week now, and I haven’t wanted to come near a bulgur salad yet.  (The first day back, we had salmon, corn-on-the cob, and green beans for supper. Yum.)

But I have to say, I’m grateful to the bulgur and garbanzo beans and the motel cooking. It saved the day on this wonderful road trip, letting us appreciate everything that IS great about Eastern Montana .

Placemat in one of the historic rooms at the Upper Musselshell Museum, Harlowton, Montana.

Happy trails!

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A strawberry feast

Peas and sweet peas are in season when it's strawberry time. One half-pint is not enough.

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.

Unlike any other fruit, the seeds of the strawberry are on the outside--and are actually the true fruits.

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.

If you add a little sugar to sliced strawberries, it'll make a nice sauce and prevent the stawberries from freezing up in ice cream.

You can toss some fresh strawberries in unexpected dishes too.

They also looked and tasted wonderful in a spinach salad.

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.

Because freezer jam isn't actually cooked, it retains the strawberries' fresh flavor.

This jam is so good that Steve’s been eating it with a spoon, straight from the  jar.

Wild strawberries are native to both the Old and the New World. Modern cultivated varieties were developed in America from European wild species.

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.

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