Some of you might remember that 1970s commercial for sugary cereal: “I’m cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!”
That’s how we feel right now. We’re senseless for strawberries in June.
I miss strawberries all year long. A sweetness far deeper than sugar could ever dream. The red juice smeared on my lips. The little grit of small seeds in my teeth.
Oh sure, we could freeze them and retrieve the memory of them in January, when the world feels bleak. But we don’t. We wait. Strawberries are June.
And we wait until we can buy pints smeared with strawberries that didn’t make it in, some of the strawberries a little bruised from the picking, some of them with dirt still clinging — the strawberries from the farmers we know.
Sometimes, in April or May, the social occasion arrives that has us eating strawberries from California, the ones that come in big plastic packs, all the berries lined up perfect, not a dent in them. And inside, white like frost, the berries withered into themselves. All looks, no personality. (I’ll let you make the analogy to the vapid celebrity of your choice, here.) No, thanks.
To quote my friend Matthew, ““I won’t buy strawberries from California, not because I’m a dogmatic locavore but because strawberries from California suck.”
(I’ve received so many comments by Californians who are offended that I have to clarify: of course strawberries in CA are wonderful. The ones they ship to us are terrible!I know that in a field outside Fresno, or on the table just off the garden in Thousand Oaks, strawberries taste mighty fine.)
I agree with him even more, now that we have strawberries in our backyard. Yesterday, late afternoon, Little Bean and I sat in the grass, picking tiny alpine strawberries off the vine, popping them into our mouths. Red smeared on our chins, dirt on our hands, and big grins between us.
This is our first summer with our daughter.
Last week, my new friend Jeanne (and her darling daughter) came over, a giant canning pot in hand, along with half a flat of strawberries she had found at the farmers’ market the day before. While her daughter arced back and forth on our tree swing outside, and Little Bean chattered from her bouncing chair, Jeanne and I made strawberry jam.
The mystery of lowering jars of food into boiling water and waiting was an enormous pleasure. (I went out and bought my own canning pot and utensils yesterday. There will be pickles on our shelves soon.) The jam in jars gleamed from the kitchen counter at the end of the day. I’m hooked.
But in a way, what I loved best was the companionable silence as Jeanne and I stood side by side and sliced strawberries, the sunlight grazing our fingers.
A few days ago, our good friend Lara arrived at the house with a bag full of flours, buttermilk, fresh yeast, and a jug of canola oil. We were making doughnuts.
Lara’s writing a doughnut cookbook, you see, to be published next fall by Sasquatch Books. She’ll have master recipes for all the major doughnuts, as well as dozens of delicious variations on every one. And, she’s going to include gluten-free doughnuts.
So we gathered to test recipes. Lara had already worked out a basic recipe. We tweaked it, with different fats, and variations in flours, and guar gum. She plopped the first doughnuts in the bubbling oil and we watched. Golden and holding their shape, these looked like doughnuts. The three of us huddled around the plate covered with a paper towel and waited for them to cool. I popped a piece in my mouth.
Light and lightly browned, slightly sweet.…oh hell with the words. It was a doughnut. Just look at it.
I grew a little teary, actually. I don’t miss gluten. Except, I had not eaten a doughnut I liked in over four years. All those sense memories came rushing back. Satisfying.
(I’m afraid I can’t give the recipe, however. It will be in Lara’s book. Worth the wait.)
We felt giddy.
Later in the afternoon, since all the flours were on the counter still, I pulled out some butter and made an adaptation of Alice’s sweet cream scones. You know why? Because she slathered one with strawberry jam, and that was enough for me. (My picture is a tribute to hers.)
And if we’re not eating strawberries right out of the pint container, or making them into jam, or slathering them into scones? We’re making crisp. Danny wakes up in the morning and makes coffee, and then starts sifting flours for the latest incarnation of gluten-free crisp goodness. (There are a number of our favorite recipes here.) This one is a strawberry-rhubarb crisp, made from the last of the rhubarb in our garden.
That’s how we like to eat strawberries when they are in season. All the time. In every combination. Until we are suffused with strawberries and our fingers are permanently stained.
That’s how we like to eat every fruit in season. We wait until they arrive in the farmers’ market, in anticipation, going without all year. And then we go from smitten to sated, within a few weeks.
I’m not tired of strawberries yet. But I’m almost there. After all, the raspberries are almost ripe…
The other day, Danny made some simple syrup with the last of the rhubarb, and some strawberries we had sitting on the counter. When we tasted it, we both thought, “Lemonade.”
Would you like some?
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 cups rhubarb, fine diced
1 pint strawberries, cleaned, tops removed, and rough chopped
1 sprig mint
8 lemons, juiced
2 quarts water
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil on medium heat. Add the rhubarb and strawberries at this point. Keep a pastry brush with a bit of water next to the pot and wet down the sides of the saucepan if the sugar creeps up. When the sugar has completely dissolved, turn the heat down to the lowest setting and let it simmer for 5 minutes.
Take the saucepan off the heat. Throw in the mint.
Allow the syrup to steep for 30 minutes.
Strain the syrup. Save the fruit. There might be enough flavor to repeat this process with more sugar and water.
When the syrup has cooled, juice all the lemons. Combine the syrup and lemon juice. Add the 2 quarts of water. Stir it up. Taste and adjust according to your ideal of lemonade.
Makes 2 quarts.