Strawberries three ways

Much of my childhood is pretty hazy, but I do remember really loving going to my Great Aunt Edna’s house in the spring and raiding the strawberry plants in her back yard. My cousins and I would pick as many as we could, snitching unwashed berries while we picked, then taking what remained of our spoils back into her house for a dish of fresh strawberries with cream poured over them.

I think I had forgotten what insanely fresh strawberries tasted like into my adulthood, growing accustomed over time to grocery store berries. I remember getting some strawberries out of season, probably imported from Chile or something, and thinking that they didn’t taste like strawberries. In fact, they didn’t really taste like anything. It was very disappointing and a stark reminder that I just really, really need to always buy produce in season, preferably from local purveyors, because nothing beats the simple pleasure of a strawberry that wakes up your taste buds with the intensity of its strawberry-ness. All politics about sustainability and the like aside, eating local, in-season fruits and vegetables is an unparalleled pleasure.

To that end, back on Good Friday, I canceled my class and took the kids out to Sweet Berry Farm to pick strawberries. We discovered Sweet Berry a few years ago, probably through the Mama Mafia, and have gone once or twice in previous years. We have never really picked very much while there, mostly because the last time we were there, the Big Kid was still pretty small and the pleasures of picking strawberries was pretty much lost on him.

But this time, we were primed and ready! Big and Little Kids attacked the berry plants with gusto, moreso when our friends I and C (and their parents) arrived. The Little Kid wasn’t too excited about the fact that the rows were fairly muddy, which made things a little slippery (and dirty), but we did our best to find the driest rows possible. We picked and picked and picked and picked — I had a hard time stopping because every time I thought to myself, okay, this is the last one, I’d see another perfectly ripe and plump gem a few feet away, calling out to be plucked.

We filled two boxes (I and C’s family filled three!), to the tune of nearly $30 (10 pounds of strawberries x $2.75/pound!). I had strictly budgeted $20 for berries, so I had to borrow $10 from our friends (and I’m reminded that I have, to date, neglected to repay that $10! Whoops!) to cover the rest of the bill.

We fed the goats, took some pictures, picked up some pie at the Blue Bonnet, ate lunch, then headed home. I had the daunting task of hulling those 10 pounds and figuring out what to do with the darn things, and in a hurry. Berries as ripe as the ones we picked had about a 2-day window before going to mush.

I started out with an embarrassingly easy freezer jam, the supplies for which I picked up at HEB for a measly $5 (freezer jars and a packet of Ball freezer jam pectin). A friend of mine had gifted me with a jar of her freezer jam a couple of years ago and I had always wanted to make more. So I did. And that knocked out four cups of the 10 pounds. This jam is really delicious and simple: it captures the sweetness of the fresh berries without sacrificing their inherent tartness. It goes well on bagels, but might be a little runny for a pb&j. I really like to spoon a couple of tablespoons of it over some reduced-fat Greek yogurt for breakfast.

Next, I made a dessert for Easter dinner at my folks. I had seen this recipe on Facebook via my friend Jillian last summer and made it for the family fourth of July barbecue. It was a HUGE hit — people were taking seconds and thirds even after stuffing themselves on burgers and the like — so I decided to make it again.

It doesn’t look very pretty, but believe me: this icebox cake is DELICIOUS and crazy easy. You can even lighten it up by using reduced fat graham crackers and light Cool Whip, depending on your feelings about processed foods. I did compromise and use Honey Maid graham crackers, but I made the whipped cream and the chocolate ganache from scratch.

Finally, because the Big Kid got really excited by the prospect of strawberry ice cream, I used a couple of cups of the berries for that. I used a French Vanilla base, the recipe for which came in the booklet accompanying my KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment; you add the cut-up berries in the last few minutes of freezing. I thought it was delicious, but Big Kid rejected it, saying it was “too lumpy.” (The lumps being the strawberries.) Sigh.

Fortunately, the ice cream did not go to waste. I took it this past week to a house party (hosted by Stephanie and Megan) celebrating the release of Kate’s book. Kate had brought a DELICIOUS rhubarb crisp to the party, and the ice cream paired with it beautifully. In fact, I may need to use the remaining four or so cups of berries (currently languishing in the freezer) to replicate that blissful pairing (or I might just make a strawberry-rhubarb crisp, if I can find some rhubarb at the farmers market this morning).

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