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Archive for the ‘Strawberries’ Category

In the novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, the first encounter between the eponymous heroine and Sir Alec Stoke-d’Urberville involves strawberries. In the first chapter, Tess’s father learns that his poverty-stricken family is actually descended from a noble family. He sends Tess to the Stoke-d’Urbervilles to announce that the two families are related. Interested in Tess because she is young and beautiful rather than due to any family connection, Alec takes her on a tour of the family estate.

He conducted her about the lawns and flower beds, and conservatories, and thence to the fruit garden and green-houses, where he asked her if she liked strawberries.

‘Yes,’ said Tess, ‘when they come.’

‘They are already here.’ D’Urberville began gathering specimens of the fruit for her, handing them back to her as he stooped; and, presently, selecting a specially fine product of the ‘British Queen’ variety, he stood up and held it by the stem to her mouth.

‘No – no!’ she said quickly, putting her fingers between his hand and her lips. ‘I would rather take it in my own hand.’

‘Nonsense!’ he insisted; and in a slight distress she parted her lips and took it in.

Unfortunately for Tess, it is the wrong man who seduces her with strawberries. Dear reader, be careful when approached by someone wanting to feed you fruit!

To assume that the part of Fragaria x ananassa that we eat is a fruit, however, is incorrect. Botanically speaking it is the tiny seeds embedded in a strawberry that are the fruit. A member of the rose family, the strawberry reproduces asexually by sending out runners, or stolons. The English word strawberry appears to be derived from the old English streawberige, from the verb streowian, which means to strew or to spread by scattering (related to the German streuen). The strawberry plant spreads by scattering runners in all directions. An alternate old English term for the strawberry was eorðberge, or earth berry (cf. German Erdbeer).

Strawberries are indigenous to the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Many Algonquin Indian tribes (including the Chippewa) celebrate the Strawberry Moon, the first full moon in June when strawberries are ripe, which falls on June 26th this year. Below is a recipe with multiple variations that you can prepare for the Strawberry Moon.

Strawberry Moon Soup: Air and Variations

Air: Simplicity

500 g strawberries (3 cups sliced)

200 g (1 cup) sour cream

500 ml (2 cups) water

2-3 Tbs honey

Purée the strawberries in a blender or food processor. Mix in the sour cream, herbs (see below), water. Add the honey. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Variation 1: Serenity

Add 1 Tbs lavender blossoms.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) soothes and calms the nerves, reduces pain, lowers blood pressure, and relieves sleep disturbances and low spirits.

Variation 2: Fidelity

Add 6 peppermint (Mentha piperita) leaves.

Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, fell in love with the nymph Mintha. When Persephone, Hades’s wife, found out, she turned Mintha into a mint plant so that this passion would bear no fruit.

Variation 3: Serendipity

Add 6 lemon verbena leaves.

My lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) is very fragrant and from time to time various insects attempt to colonize it from the top down. Then it is time to remove the top leaves, wash off the invaders, and use the verbena. Not long ago the arrival of small black bugs led to the chance discovery that strawberries and lemon verbena go together quite well.

Variation 4: Sexuality

Add 2 large borage leaves.

Numerous websites report that a soup of strawberries, sour cream and borage (Borago officinalis)was served to newlyweds in France as an aphrodisiac. Although I have yet to find a reference to an actual text describing this, it inspired this variation.

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Erdbeere für alle!

Last Wednesday I noticed new graffiti on a wall I frequently pass: Erdbeere für alle! Strawberries for everyone! I was struck by the concreteness of the wish; instead of calling for something abstract like freedom or justice or a particular political agenda, the author demanded something not only tangible but also edible, something that nourishes and sustains. Here is a utopian vision I can heartily support. How would the world would be different if more people ate strawberries? Can we transform the world by growing more strawberries?

Last year I tried my hand at gardening for the first time, planting herbs, vegetables, and strawberries in containers on my balcony. My goal was an overall 50% success rate, which I am happy to say I achieved despite being plagued by hordes of aphids. My relationship with strawberry plants started when I placed four seeds in a small pot. Two of the four sprouted, but then things went awry and they met their demise quite early in the growing season. Not daunted, I bought a strawberry plant from a local hobby gardener who has heirloom varieties passed on from her grandmother. This plant was full of élan vital, putting out runners that required me to prepare additional containers where they could take root. Despite the plant’s energy, I had gotten it so late in the season that it did not bear enough fruit to make anything, so I just savored each individual berry.

Strawberries are perennials, but I wasn’t sure if they would survive the winter in containers. In March, I was overjoyed to see green leaves growing from one of the plants. The pictures above and below show the current state of my strawberry plant. The first runner is ready to take root, but it has a mind of its own, which required some creative problem solving.

Yes, that is the top of an egg carton container. The pot I had prepared for the runner was too high. But since I love my strawberry plant, I am willing to cater to its every whim. The goal this year is to coax as many runners as possible to take root, then transplant them into a larger container and have a mini-strawberry patch next summer. When I run out of space, I will give away strawberry plants. What do you plan to do to ensure there are strawberries for everyone?

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry shortcake is a classic dessert from the American South which consists of strawberries, cream, and biscuits. Shortcakes became popular in the mid-19th century. “Short” does not refer to the height of the cake but rather the crumbly texture resulting from the proportion of fat to dry ingredients (think shortening or shortbread). Sadly – but not surprisingly – many contemporary American recipes for strawberry shortcake substitute angel food cake for the biscuit layer to cut down on fat, a practice which voids the word shortcake of meaning.

The recipe follows the biscuit formula proposed by Michael Ruhlman in his fascinating book Ratio : 3 parts flour, one part fat, two parts liquid. The use of spelt flour results in a darker dough that provides a stronger color contrast with the red strawberries and white cream. If you like, add chopped fresh herbs to the strawberries for an added layer of flavor. I like verbena and lemon balm in particular, but mint and basil are also compatible partners. For the whipping cream, I used Schlagobers, a heavy cream with 36 % fat available in Austria. Cream differs depending on where you live, which is why I provide the percentage of fat – click here for more details.

Ingredients

500 g (2 pints) strawberries

1-2 Tbs honey or sugar

optional: 1-2 Tbs. chopped lemon verbena, lemon balm, mint, or basil

120 g (1 cup) spelt flour

1 ts baking powder

pinch of salt

40 g (3 Tbs) butter

80 ml (1/3 cup) milk and egg mixture

250 ml (1 cup) whipping cream (36% fat)

Topping:

Slice the strawberries, mixing them in a small bowl with either honey or sugar and a herb of choice. Let the berries sit while you prepare the shortcake and cream.

Shortcake:

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Cut in the butter.

Beat the egg and milk together. Add to the dry ingredients.

On a cookie sheet, shape into one large biscuit. Bake for 15 minutes at 220°C / 425°F.

Cream:

While the shortcake is baking, whip the cream. I tested this recipe several times, and each time I whipped the cream by hand. Yes, just me and a whisk and a bowl, unplugged. Why? To do something I had never done before. To see how long it actually took. To enjoy the sudden transformation from liquid froth into whipped cream. To take pleasure in the act of cooking. To meditate.

I encourage you to abandon the electric beaters. Just when you think that the cream will never change its state, when you try to console yourself with the thought that at least you are increasing your arm strength, just when you are ready to give up hope: the cream becomes whipped! What a miracle. Can you beat my record of 5 minutes?

Assembly

Strawberry shortcake is served in layers. From the bottom up: shortcake, berries, cream, shortcake, berries cream. I am rather lazy and prefer taste to presentation when cooking for myself, so I just broke the biscuits into pieces and mixed everything together well so the biscuit soaks up the strawberry juice and is doused in cream. Be creative as you wish.

Since you have faithfully read to the end of this post, I’ll give you a preview of what is to come on Wednesdays and Sundays. There will be more about strawberries; cherries will arrive on the scene; cold summer soups will be featured; and you’ll find out who Katharina Prato was.

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