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Volume 39 Issue 5 • June 4 - 10, 2009
now in our 39th season

Foraging for Strawberries

by Jenn Farmer
Sous Chef at Bartlett's Farm

I was eating fresh strawberries the other day, and they evoked a very vivid memory for me.  It took me back to a trip I made as a teenager to Lake Baikal, Siberia.  I stayed with for part of a summer with a family from a town called Irkutsk.  An interesting side note, Irkutsk is the birthplace of the famous cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.  He was the first human in outer space, and the first to orbit the earth, and is highly celebrated in Siberia. 

The family I stayed with consisted of a botanist, a doctor, and their daughters.  Their daughters were just a little younger than me, and we really got along well.  It was summertime, which is remarkably warm in Siberia.  We decided to leave the city and go for a hike in the country.  They took me up to a beautiful wooded mountainous area on the lake for a magical afternoon. 

Lake Baikal is the deepest freshwater lake in the world, and truly amazing, and I would recommend the arduous trip to anyone willing to take it.  We hiked through the wooded hills for hours to get to a nice beach where we could have our lunch.   The father started a pit style fire on the beach with large stones.  The girls and I foraged in the woods for additions to our lunch of potatoes, onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes.  Boy did we hit the jackpot, we found some wild strawberries. 

At that point I had only eaten my grandmother’s garden strawberries and the “pick your own” farm berries—which were very good.  But, I had never eaten a wild strawberry before, and it was breath taking.  The berries are only about the size of a pea, but have the most intense and concentrated strawberry flavor I had ever tasted.  They were perfection packed into the tiniest morsel.  We ate our fill, which took a considerable amount of time.  When we walked back into our beach site, their father was very relieved, he was afraid we had gotten lost, or worse.  He forgave us when we told him of the fun we had foraging in the deep, green, forest—and after we gave him the handful of perfect, ruby red, berries.  I can still smell the forest and its rich soil, moss, and sweet berries right now. 

While he was impatiently waiting for us to get back, the father cooked the potatoes, and made a quick salad of cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes.  He also caught a couple of fish, which were delicious.  As luck would have it a local fishing boat filled with Japanese business men on a trip pulled up.  The captain happened to be friends with the family I was staying with.  We shared our fire pit with them, and then we caught a trip with them to a beach much closer to our vehicle.  As we sailed on the massive lake, the Japanese men were all fishing, and their catch was similar in size and flavor to mackerel.  We ate this fish raw with salt, onions, and cucumbers, and a vodka chaser.  What an experience and all brought back to life by eating one, perfectly ripe, deep ruby red strawberry. 

A recipe that evokes memories for me is my grandmother’s strawberry rhubarb crisp, which we enjoyed every spring on my grandparent’s farm.  It is sweet, tart, and fresh.  It is also great warm with vanilla ice cream.

Grandma’s Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

  • For the filling 
  • 2 pounds rhubarb stalks, sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 pound strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • For the topping
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1-1/2  cups light brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

To make the filling:  Preheat the oven to 350°.  In a bowl, toss the rhubarb with 3/4 cup of the sugar and let stand for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the rhubarb and discard the rhubarb juice.  Add the strawberries with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and let stand for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cornstarch, lemon juice and vanilla to the fruit and stir well. Transfer the mixture to a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish.

For the topping: Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, mix the ingredients together until large crumbs form.

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the filling and bake for 45 minutes. Test the crisp, if it isn’t bubbling and the topping isn’t browned cook for another 10- 20 minutes.  Let the crisp rest for 10 to 20 minutes before serving.

Another very simple recipe is one my mother made when the berries were at their ripest.  It is fun for kids too.

Strawberry Poppers

  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 1 half cup sour cream or plain yogurt
  • One half cup brown sugar

Wash and drain the strawberries.  Holding each berry by the hull or top, dip each one into sour cream and then immediately into brown sugar- put directly into your mouth and bite into it, enjoy!

Strawberries should be plump and well rounded with a natural shine and rich red color.  They should be free from white, green, or hard tips. When purchasing check pints carefully for any moldy or leaking, or bruised berries.  Strawberries do not ripen after being picked, so look for deep red color. Their hulls should be bright green and fresh looking. Strawberries without caps should not be purchased as they may be overripe.  Use strawberries as soon as possible after picking or purchasing to ensure the best flavor and the highest nutritional value.  Strawberries are high in vitamin C, antioxidants, and calcium, so beyond tasting good they are very good for you too.    

Though most of us think of Strawberries in desserts, they pair exceptionally well with savory flavors like black peppercorn, blue cheese, feta cheese, basil, and balsamic vinegar.  Try experimenting with strawberries in green salads, especially with these flavors.

The following is similar to a recipe that I found years ago in an Indian cookbook.  It is fresh and light, and accompanies almost any spring or summer meal with ease.  It also happens to be my favorite dish to bring to parties. 

Strawberry Cucumber Salad

  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • 2 medium-sized cucumbers
  • 1-2 T fresh mint, coarsely chopped
  • One half cup of orange juice, freshly squeezed if possible
  • 1 T lime juice
  • 3 T hazelnut or almond oil
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper

Wash and drain the strawberries, then remove the hull (the green tops) and slice the berries in half or quarters if they are large.  Wash then cut ends off the cucumbers.  Taste a piece of the cucumber to see if the skin tastes bitter, if it is peel the cucumber.  Cut it into medium sized slices.  Arrange the cucumber and strawberries on a serving platter so they look attractive.   Create vinaigrette for the salad with the remaining ingredients, and whisk together.  Pour the dressing over the salad immediately before serving.  Serves 4. 

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