Salute to strawberries
Just before I started working on this column, I read an announcement online from Lloyd’s Market in Lewes: They now have local strawberries in stock. I always look forward to this news, a special treat for strawberry fans, and so much more welcome than the stacks of clamshell boxes filled with oversized strawberries and marked buy-one-get-one-free at the supermarkets.
The reason the supply from out-of-state (and out-of-country) growers is so high is because they’re already enjoying the warmer weather that strawberries need to ripen. I fell victim to this a week or so ago, because the berries were such a vivd shade of red, like a siren song insisting I take them home.
Unfortunately, when I sliced them for my cereal, they were almost desiccated inside, with very little juice or flavor. I should have known better. If it wasn’t yet time for local berries, the ones at the grocery would have traveled a long distance from California, Florida or North Carolina, losing their sweet essence along the way.
What to do with less-than-special strawberries? Find recipes that concentrate their flavors and help them become juicier. The first of these are the strawberry oatmeal bars in the photo. The berries are sliced and mixed with sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch to create a texture similar to a pie filling.
The crusts combine old-fashioned rolled oats, flour, brown sugar and melted butter with a bit of ground ginger for an interesting flavor note. Since these bars are not overly sweet (a good thing in my opinion, but some of you may want a little touch more) I’ve included a recipe for a vanilla glaze to drizzle over the top.
Another way to bring out the sweetness in under-ripe strawberries is a process called maceration. Simply chop or slice the berries and toss them with sugar and a splash of your favorite cognac (or lemon juice). The naturally acidic strawberry juices mix with the sugar, and the process of osmosis helps form a sweet syrup that permeates the berries.
If you haven’t fallen for the less-than-ready berries over the past few months and plan to visit Lloyd’s for local berries, I’ve included a recipe for strawberry jam that relies on very ripe berries and doesn’t call for pectin. The jam will have a slightly loose consistency and works just as well spooned over ice cream as it does spread on toast or as a glaze for roast pork.
And, since Sunday is Cinco de Mayo, I’ve included a recipe for fruity sangria, a perfect spot for some of those sweet strawberries. The quantity for this recipe should be enough for a party, but you can halve the quantities if you’re only serving a few people.
Don’t forget - the Historic Lewes Farmers Market opens tomorrow, and some of the vendors will have local strawberries.
Oatmeal Strawberry Bars
1 C old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 C flour
1/3 C packed brown sugar
1/2 t ground ginger
1/4 t salt
6 T melted butter
2 C diced strawberries
1 T lemon juice
1 T sugar
1 t cornstarch
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with parchment paper, extending the paper several inches over the edges of the pan; set aside. In a mixing bowl, stir together the oats, flour, sugar, ginger and salt. Pour in the melted butter and mix until thoroughly moistened. Reserve 1/2 C of the mixture and transfer the rest into the prepared pan. Using the bottom of a glass or the heel of your hand, press the crust into an even layer in the pan; set aside. In the same mixing bowl, combine the strawberries, lemon juice and sugar. Sift the cornstarch over the berry mixture and toss gently to combine. Spread the berries over the bottom crust and sprinkle reserved 1/2 C over the top. Bake until golden, about 35 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool completely before removing from pan by lifting with the parchment paper. If desired, drizzle with vanilla glaze before slicing.
1/2 C confectioners sugar
1/2 t vanilla
1 T milk
Whisk ingredients together and drizzle over oatmeal bars.
Speedy Strawberry Jam
2 pints ripe strawberries
1 1/2 C sugar
Sterilize 2 canning jars and lids in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes; set aside to cool. Wash, hull and chop strawberries. Place berries in a large, heavy saucepan and stir in sugar. Cook over medium, mashing fruit with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Transfer jam into jars and set aside to cool. Screw on lids and store in the refrigerator.
1/2 C brown sugar
1 1/2 C orange juice
2/3 C brandy
2 750-ml bottles of red wine*
1 C ice
Core the apple, leave the skin on and chop into a small dice. Leave the skin on the orange; cut into slices and chop into small pieces. Hull and slice the strawberries; set aside 12 slices to use as garnish. Combine apples, oranges, strawberries and sugar in a large bowl. Muddle with a cocktail muddler or wooden spoon for about a minute. Add orange juice and brandy; muddle again for about a minute. Pour in red wine and ice; stir to combine. Transfer mixture to a pitcher or punch bowl and serve in glasses over ice, garnished with reserved strawberry slices. Yield: 8 cups. *Note: choose a somewhat dry, fruity, full-bodied wine like a Tempranillo or Rioja.