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Strawberries: The sweet sign of early summer

Jun 14th, 2011 | Category: Cooking

by Becca Schwarz Cole

Sweet, succulent strawberries are a welcome sight and taste in late spring and early summer, signaling warmer days and the bounty of produce that is sure to follow.

Old-fashioned strawberry shortcake with fresh strawberries and homemade whipped cream. PHOTO BY BECCA SCHWARZ COLE

The beautiful red color, texture, and oh-so-good sweetness make for perfect desserts and other dishes. But, of course, the best way to eat them is when they have been freshly picked in a matter of minutes or hours – whether in a u-pick field or offered at your local farmers market or farm stand. There is no need for sugar, chocolate, or anything else. Whole, fresh strawberries just picked from the vine are at their finest. Some of the best times each season are spent kneeled over in a field of strawberries, picking pounds and pounds under the sun, with the hills in the distance, and our hands and mouth (and probably cheeks, especially the kids’ cheeks) covered in red. Simply delicious.

There are times when fresh berries require a tried and true recipe to feed and delight family and friends. Many folks have recipes that have been passed down – family favorites that come out every  year during the growing season. Strawberry shortcake tops the list of most loved strawberry desserts, and I have to agree. I follow an old-fashioned shortcake recipe that calls for made-from-scratch buttermilk biscuits and whipped cream. The biscuits are lower in fat (you can eat more!), and can be made dairy free (substitute the butter and buttermilk) for those with lactose-intolerant or vegan diets. The biscuits are crisp on the outside and crumbly, and so good when soaked in the strawberry juices and/or whipped cream. The whipped cream has three basic ingredients, an easy tasty topping for this recipe.

Strawberries make a colorful and delicious ingredient in a variety of wonderful desserts and dishes, from strawberry-rhubarb pie, cream pie, muffins and layer cookies, to baked strawberry and rhubarb pieces glazed in brown sugar and honey, as well as strawberry jam, ice and dressing (see sidebars). For our daughter’s birthday on July 4th, we baked vanilla pound cake and used a star-shaped cookie cutter to create stars that were topped with berries and whipped cream. This idea makes a great touch at your July 4th outing. (Blueberries are also late this year, but if they arrive for the July 4th weekend, this dessert can be red, white and blue.)

Stars and strawberries make a nice touch on July 4th. PHOTO BY BECCA SCHWARZ COLE

Strawberries will be followed by blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and huckleberries. Lots of berries, lots of tasty options. Have a berry, berry good time!

Old-Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake and Whipped Cream

3 cups strawberries
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 1/4  cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/2  cup  buttermilk
For whipped cream:
1/2 pint whipping cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Mix 1 cup strawberries, 1/3 cup sugar, orange juice, vanilla, and lemon juice in a bowl, and mash. Stir in remaining strawberries. Cover and chill.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk, stirring just until blended. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface and pat into a 6 x 4-inch rectangle. Cut dough into 6 squares. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes.
To make the cream, whip the cream with a mixer until thickened. Add sugar and vanilla and whip to desired consistency. Refrigerate.
When ready to serve, split biscuits in half horizontally and top with berries and whipped cream.

Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette over Greens

1/2 pint fresh strawberries
1 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon honey
Mixed salad greens

Using a food processor, mix together strawberries, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and honey. Blend until smooth.
Create a bed of salad greens on a plate and drizzle the dressing on your salad as desired. The remaining dressing can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge.

Strawberry Ice

5 cups strawberries
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice

Blend the strawberries in a blender or food processor until smooth. In a saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Cook and stir until sugar is dissolved, about five minutes. Cool slightly and add to blender. Add lemon juice. Blend until ingredients combined. Pour into a freezer-safe container, and cover. Freeze
for 4-6 hours or until almost frozen. When ready to serve, scoop out and eat up. For texture, you can also blend the mixture again, and then serve.

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