EDITOR’S NOTE: Any time anyone mentions strawberries, I just can’t help myself but to add my amazing Julia Child story. Yep! I met Julia Child. In Vermont in an airport van. We were heading home from a convention with clients and the van was waiting for “someone” before we could leave. We all wondered who it could possibly be? Then she came aboard – JULIA CHILD! She had been in Vermont for a family reunion. She asked us were we were from and we all chimed in unison “Oregon!” She immediately began to expound about Oregon strawberries. “The best berries in the world. Just amazing!” she exclaimed. My client happened to be a farmer and grew strawberries. Oh she was thrilled to meet him and he sent her strawberries when we got home. I will always remember her distinctive trill and and how said, “Oh Oregon straaaww berries …”
By Dana Zia
“We cannot set down foot but tread on strawberries,” an early English settler in America
Last weekend I was at a farmer’s market and bought a BEAUTIFUL flat of organic strawberries. The strawberries were from California (I prefer Oregon ones) but that was fine, I had red gold in my hands! There is nothing like red ripe strawberries to make me totally dork out and do the “strawberries are here!” dance then turn the kitchen into a strawberry wonderland.
Even though strawberries are available all year round due to the miracle of shipping them from Peru or some such place, those aren’t real strawberries. They don’t taste, smell or act like a real strawberry, just resemble one…sorta. Real strawberries are red all the way through and are fragrant and juicy. So when the “real” strawberries appear, I am overjoyed!
Strawberries are an ancient fruit that many cultures have danced over for thousands of years. They are native in the Northern hemispheres but the modern strawberry was developed from plants born right here in North America. The first written history on this adored plant is by a Roman Senator in 224BC and from there on out they are a popular subject to (droll) write about. When the European invaders, I mean settlers, came to America they were astonished at all the strawberries growing in the new world.
Not surprisingly, the strawberry is woven through many Native American tales as the berry that brings peace to the home and village with its bright color and sweetness. They would take the wild strawberries and mash then up, add cornmeal and cook them on the fire. (Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the ancestor of the strawberry shortcake.) The settlers waxed poetically about these humble cakes.
Those Native American’s were no dummies as strawberries are a super valuable source of antioxidants. In fact they are rated 3rd highest in antioxidants out of all foods with blackberries and walnuts in first and second place. Strawberries are also turning out to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and actually help regulate blood sugar instead of spike it. (That has the nutrition geeks furiously researching!) So if you have diabetes you can regularly enjoy this delights.
I recommend only buying organic strawberries as conventional ones are sprayed with up to 300 types of anti-fungals, pesticides and herbicides. We aren’t the only ones who love these sweet nuggets so the commercial farmers fight back with chemicals. Conventional strawberries are listed second (with apples being first) as the most “dirty” produce. They are literally poisonous like Snow White’s apple. Please don’t be tempted by the witch of modern chemicals and buy conventional strawberries.
I couldn’t help myself, I had to do strawberry shortcakes for the recipe to share today. I mean, there is no other way to better enjoy the season’s best. These sweet little nuggets have a couple of interesting ingredients that you wouldn’t normally think would be good together but they add a depth instead of detract. I have a gluten free option that is equally amazing on my website, cavewomancafe.com. Take a walk on the wild strawberry path and be amazed. Make them for Mother’s day!
Strawberry shortcakes with a new twist
Heads up! These take 20 minutes of chill time so figure that into your prep time. Please use as many organic products as possible but the flour, sugar and berries are the most critical. Serves 8
1.5 cups of unbleached organic flour
1/2 cup of cornmeal, Fine ground
5 tablespoons of organic sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoons of salt
The zest of one lemon
1/2 cup (1 stick) of chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup of half and half
1 large egg, beaten
2 pounds of organic strawberries, washed and sliced
A few tablespoons of sugar, depending on how sweet the berries are
3 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (I used white balsamic)
A few cranks of black pepper or a large pinch
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
Whipping cream or ice cream
Heat the oven up to 425 degrees and get a mediumish. In the bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and lemon zest till all fluffy and well mixed. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or with two forks or the old fashion way, my favorite, with your fingers. (Hopefully you washed your hands first) When the butter is fairly well incorporated, add the cream and mix till just barely blended. (BTW this first step can be done in a flash with the food processor. Just mix the dry ingredients with a few pulses, then add the butter and pulse till the butter is just starting to mix in, then add the cream and pulse till barely mixed)
Turn you dough out on floured work surface and gather into a ball then flatten out into a rough 8×5 inch rectangle about 1 1/4 inches thick. Don’t overwork the dough or it gets tough. Cut the dough into squares to make 8 biscuits. Put the biscuits onto a lightly greased baking sheet and chill for 20 minutes. Brush the top of the biscuits with the beaten egg and sprinkle with some sugar. Tuck in the oven to bake for 15 minutes or until they are golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack to await their grand moment. (This step can be done a day ahead of time)
Gently mix your lovely fresh red ripe strawberries with the sugar, balsamic vinegar, black pepper and vanilla. Let them set for about 30 minutes to marry the flavors. (You can whip your whip cream up here with a dash of balsamic vinegar, a couple tablespoons of sugar and some lemon zest) Cut the biscuits in half and serve the strawberries spooned in the middle with whip cream. Place the top of the biscuit tittering on top and a dollop of whip cream. Sprinkle a wee bit of black pepper on the whip cream for beauty. Do the happy strawberry dance.