Getting Fresh: Sweet on Strawberries

Strawberries are here! And I mean the real deal -- the fire-engine red, lip-smacking variety that are at their peak, right now, at area farmer's markets. Yesterday, I spotted them at the Foggy Bottom FreshFarm Market as well as at the market in Clarendon, just in time, before the pounding rain.




Farmer's market beauty queens: Strawberries from D&S Farm in southern Maryland. (Kim O'Donnel)

Overcome by their honeyed perfume and eye-popping beauty, I bought two quarts and tore into one as soon as I got home. It's a once-a-year opportunity, folks, for a few short weeks. Hightail it to your nearest farm market now!

Below, 10 ways I like to get my strawberry groove on:

*Churned into sorbet or ice cream -- for cones, sandwiches, or better still, milkshakes

*Baked into a crisp or cobbler, depending on which topping I'm in the mood for

*Layered in parfait glasses as a fool, paired with stewed rhubarb

*Sandwiched between shortcake, of the sponge or cream biscuit variety, and whipped cream or a fluff of creme fraiche

*Macerated in rum, bourbon, Grand Marnier, just because I need a new twist on a TV snack

*Pureed and strained for juice, a smoothie starter, or if heightened with a wee bit of cayenne and shredded basil, into a bowl of thirst-quenching soup

*Tossed into a salad of spinach, thinly sliced red onion and fennel

* Stewed and jarred for breakfast jam

* Mixed with other berries or other acidic fruits (passion fruit, guava, oranges, pineapple) to make a compote of sorts, and poured into a baked meringue shell (see recipe details below)

* Smeared with goat cheese or cream cheese, atop a cracker, a bagel, a hunk of a baguette

This, of course, only skims the surface, so by all means, share your favorite ways of playing with strawberries in the comments area below. I found a fun collection of strawberry-centric recipes in the current issue of Bon Appetit magazine

Today's valentine to strawberries is the first installment of "Getting Fresh," a weekly blog feature on local fruits and vegetables appearing Thursdays, during growing season. Please send comments and suggestions my way.

Meringue Shells
From "Local Flavors" by Deborah Madison

Ingredients
3/4 cup sugar -- granulated white or superfine, or granulated light brown
2 teaspoons cornstarch
4 egg whites, at room temperature
pinch salt
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Method

Preheat oven to 300. On a piece of parchment paper or foil, draw six 4-inch circles. Mix a tablespoon of the sugar with the cornstarch and set aside.

Beat egg whites and salt until stiff, then add sugar gradually and beat until thick and glossy. Add sugar-cornstarch mixture, then fold in vinegar and vanilla.

Divide mixture among the 6 circles. Carefully shape meringue so that it resembles a nest, with high sides.

Bake for 1 hour, then turn off oven and let sit until cool. Gently pry off lining and set on serving plates.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 17, 2007; 10:22 AM ET Getting Fresh , Spring Produce
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Comments

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I picked 15 quarts of strawberries last weekend in SoMd, and after making lots of jam, and drying and freezing others, there were plenty left to eat! One of my favorite ways to eat strawberries is in milk -- very vanilla soymilk is the best with them!

Posted by: Troylet | May 17, 2007 11:58 AM

Down here in NC the strawberries are at the height of the picking season. So far I've made several pints of chocolate covered berries to give to friends, made a strawberry cheesecake, mashed a bunch to put on top of angel food cake, and made about six pints of strawberry jam. I've also frozen several quarts and gave away a couple more. I think I'll go get some more next weekend too!

Posted by: John L | May 17, 2007 12:25 PM

Hey, Kim!

Where can I find what I call European strawberries? They're smaller and sweeter than the general domestic types that show up in grocery stores. Do any farmer's markets have them?

Posted by: rockville | May 17, 2007 1:28 PM

I would love to make strawberry jam, does someone have an easy recipe?

Posted by: Strawberry lover | May 17, 2007 4:57 PM

Rockville, are you thinking along these lines? Check out link to garden column last year:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/01/AR2006030100574.html

Looks like you'll have to plant them yourself...I've not seen these little guys at market thus far.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | May 17, 2007 5:57 PM

Can strawberries be frozen as easily as blue berries or blackberries?

Posted by: Alexandria | May 18, 2007 7:17 AM

I remember reading a piece a while back about farms where you could go pick your own berries. Did a quick search and can't find it. Anyone have suggestions within driving distance from DC?

Posted by: Berri | May 18, 2007 7:30 AM

Alexandria, you can freeze strawberries but they won't hold their shape once they thaw. They are ok to make smoothies and ice cream topping though.

Posted by: Frederick | May 18, 2007 9:54 AM

The simplest way to make jam (best for eating the same day) is to just add the berries (whole or chopped, depending on your preference) to a saucepan with (or w/o) sugar (to your taste); just cook it over low heat until they break down and then simmer, stirring, until it reduces. It will thicken further as it cools. This is also the same method you would use to make a strawberry ice cream/gelato/sorbet base, only you might cook it a bit longer for jam (since you want it thick).

Another nice way to augment fresh strawberry flavor is to make a simple syrup (water and sugar) boiled along with lots of fresh spearmint leaves--just pour the mint syrup over the sliced berries and put it all in the fridge to get cold. A great summer dessert.

Posted by: Rebecca | May 18, 2007 10:06 AM

"where you could go pick your own berries"

Here is the URL for Larriland Farms. http://www.pickyourown.com/

They are just off I70 west of Columbia. I've been there in the past. What side of DC you are at determines if it is "within driving distance from DC". I live in Montgomery County.

I know that there are others, this is the only one that I can think of.

Posted by: Wheaton | May 18, 2007 10:22 AM

A great and easy way to enjoy strawberries is fresh sliced berries mixed with a good quality vanilla yogurt. Breyer's "custard" vanilla is our favorite.

Posted by: AngelaA | May 18, 2007 11:22 AM

Berri, you can also pick strawberries at Butler's Orchard in Germantown MD, though it looks like they won't be ready for another week (http://butlersorchard.com)

Posted by: Andrea | May 18, 2007 11:30 AM

Berri: I went to Shlagel Farms in Waldorf (Charles County, MD) for my berries: http://www.shlagelfarms.com/

Posted by: Troylet | May 18, 2007 11:37 AM

You havent mentioned the best use for fresh local strawberries - make strawberry wine! I have been doing it for several years and it turns out fruit-forward, pleasantly aromatic - a perfect warm weather quaff.

Posted by: Joe | May 18, 2007 1:56 PM

Hey Rockville, Shlagel farms from Waldorf Md. Has had strawberries the last 2 Saturdays at the Rockville Farmers Market. They are great. There web site was mentioned earlier in post. They are a real working family farm. With great berries.

Posted by: drtfrm | May 19, 2007 3:34 PM

Shlagel Farms is a short 30 minute drive from DC and Northern Virginia. They have great strawberries, clean wead free fields and wonderful greenhouse plants at a great value. Here is their web site www.shlagelfarms.com

Posted by: drtfrm | May 19, 2007 3:36 PM

The strawberry plants in my backyard here in a western suburb of Boston are flowering and starting to set fruit, so I'm reading your comments and savoring the treat awaiting me in about three weeks.

In the meantime -- I have two quick-and-easy toppings for your berries. Mix thoroughly either:

1. 1 cup good-quality ricotta and 1-2 TBL honey (orange blossom honey or something similarly fragrant would be very nice here)

or

2. 1 cup sour cream (low-fat is fine) and 2 TBL dark brown sugar

Layer sliced berries and topping in parfait glasses, if you have them.

Posted by: Mudville | May 19, 2007 8:08 PM

To the strawberry lover who was looking for a jam receipe, I've always used the receipe on the box of the powdered pectin box. It's worked for me every time.

Posted by: andi | May 19, 2007 8:14 PM

Slice the strawberries and use them fresh on peanut butter sandwiches instead of jelly.

Posted by: Laura | May 19, 2007 9:26 PM

Do you have a recipe for strawberry sauce for, e.g. pancakes?

Posted by: Cora from Vienna | May 24, 2007 1:33 PM

I got my organic strawberries from Trader Joe's here in Las Vegas. When I got home I wash and hulled them, and then I melt a chunk of chocolate in double boiler, put in Irish cream liqueur, a small amount of butter, and little bit of milk for consistency. Wait until the mixture cools off a bit, and then pour it in a deep bowl or leave it in the pot. Using fondue fork, dip strawberry in the mixture, oh..delicious! You may chase it with cold champagne. I usually have it on a lazy Sunday afternoon while reading Sunday edition of the Review Journal.

Posted by: Atty Olsen | May 24, 2007 3:25 PM

Last weekend my wife and kids went to pick strawberries at our local farm in Waldorf, Shlagel Farm. As always we had a wonderful time, the field is full of red ripe berries, and is extremely clean. We found this place 2 years ago and have always been struck by the fact that they are very receptive of allowing children in the field to pick. Other places did not want our kids to go near the plants. Overall it is a wonderfull experience and I highly recommend it.

Posted by: Waldorfguy | May 24, 2007 7:14 PM

MY EASY STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM, 1 QUART CLEANED STRAWBERRIES PUT THROUGH CUISINART. ADD 1 1/2+ CUPS CREAM, 1/2 CUP SUGAR OR SUGAR/SPLENDA MIXTURE AND, THIS SEEMS KEY TO KEEPING FLAVOR "FRESH" IN THE ICE CREAM, TWO TBSP FRESH LEMON JUICE. PUT INTO WHATEVER YOU USE TO MAKE SORBET, SHERBET OR ICE CREAM.

Posted by: StewartG | May 24, 2007 9:06 PM

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