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Wilt thou be mine?
Thou shalt not wash dishes
Nor yet feed the swine.
But sit on a cushion
And sew a fine seam,
And feed upon strawberries,
Sugar and cream.
Apples are for teachers, but strawberries are for childhood. A strawberry is the first fruit we can deal with, whole and entire, without worrying about peels and pits and sharp-edged cores. We eat our strawberries in innocence, free from the cottony fuzz of peaches, the infinite interruptions of watermelon seeds, or the sudden, surprising bitterness of plums. As children, we receive a slice of apple, a segment of orange, a half a peach; but strawberries we are given undivided. The only thing we want when we finish one strawberry is another. So it comes as a shock, when we reach a certain age, to read in Harold McGee's Of Food and Cooking that the strawberry is a 'false fruit,' derived from the base of the flower rather than the ovary." And yet despite this breach of botanical semantics, we stand ready to forgive a fruit, however false, that came to us initially in the form of jellies and jams, shortcake and ice cream. And Jell-O: Jell-O is strawberry, strawberry is Jell-O, as any child well knows.
But what are we to think of John Gerard, who, in his highly respected Herball (1597), says nothing about the lush, thick taste of this member of the rose family, concentrating instead on its medicinal advantages. He informs us that strawberry leaves make a great poultice but ignores all of the sensual charms of the berry about which Izaak Walton, quoting William Butler, wrote, "Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did." Even the usually reserved Samuel Johnson was once moved to call out, "Toujours strawberries and cream."
Actually, to be fair, Gerard did not know the strawberry as we know it today because it did not exist. The modern-day strawberry began with the discovery of two New World strawberries. The first was the delicate and flavorful scarlet woodland strawberry, found in Virginia. Like peas and corn -- and almost everything else, for that matter -- this highly perishable berry is best eaten on the spot where it grew.
Then, in the early eighteenth century, a French naval officer named Frezier (incredibly, his name in French, frasier, means "strawberry plant") came across the Chilean strawberry on the west coast of South America. Hardy, fat, and sometimes as large as an apple, this variety had very little taste. The crossing of these two varieties produced a less-perishable, sweet, plump red berry that gained immediate popularity all over the world. For his work on strawberries, the nineteenth-century English gardener Michael Keens was awarded the silver cup by the Royal Horticultural Society. By the 1850s this country was caught up in what was known as "strawberry fever," with people throwing strawberry parties, horticultural societies sponsoring strawberry exhibits, and whole towns, like Belmont, Massachusetts, holding the first strawberry festivals. In Philadelphia, the fashionable crowd made the rounds of strawberry gardens, where they could taste the fruit at its peak.
Recipes began to appear for everything from the sublime-sounding Sister Abigail's Strawberry Flummery to strawberry soups, fruit leather, mousse frapp�s, wine, and even a strawberry concoction to bathe in. Popular preparations like strawberries Romanoff gave rise to the usual disputes over authorship. Some contend that this recipe originated with Chef Arbogast in San Francisco's Palace Hotel; others give credit to Hollywood's Mike Romanoff. Many insist it was Antonin Careme, chef to Czar Alexander I of Russia, who created the dish, but James Beard argued that "it was an Englishman, Cardinal Wolsey, who started the fad of eating strawberries with cream. Mother was deeply indebted to him . . ." As was her appreciative son. From somewhere the word fragariaphobia, or "fear of strawberries," emerged, though no one has ever seemed to suffer from such a malady.
California produces more than 70 percent of the nation's crop, including hundreds of varieties the names of which --Douglas, Pajaro, Chandler, and Selva -- are largely unknown to the consumer. Most, if not all, of these are red, but reports of delicious creamy-white strawberries have been reported such distant points as Hawaii and Turkey, and green strawberries are also a rare but extant possibility.
In this country every state produces strawberries. This somehow seems appropriate in a country that once looked, at first sight, like an endless field of Strawberries. On Saturday, June 12, 1630, John Winthrop wrote of the land on which he was to found the colony of Massachusetts Bay: Most of our people went on shore upon the land of Cape Ann, which lay very near us, and gathered store of fine strawberries." What he was seeing, lyrically if eurocentrically, was a new land, a new beginning, a second childhood for a weary, aging Europe. And its symbol, at least for the moment, was the strawberry.
Consumer and Cooking Guide
Chandler, Douglas, Pajaro (large, red); fraises de bois (very tiny, red and white); long-stem (any variety picked with stem). Select berries that are firm and uniform in color. Avoid berries with white "shoulders" (stem ends).
Year-round; peak-May through September
Refrigerate, unwashed, in a bowl covered with plastic wrap pierced in several places, for up to 2 days.
Good source of vitamin C
55 calories per cup
Cooking and Handling Notes
Use a tweezers to pull hulls from berries.
Sauteed Shrimp with Warm Strawberry Vinaigrette
5 tablespoons Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound medium shrimp,
peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons balsamic
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup sliced strawberries
4 cups mixed greens
In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Cook half the garlic until fragrant; add the shrimp. Saut� until the shrimp turn pink all over, about 4 minutes. Remove and keep warm. Add the remaining oil and garlic to the same skillet. Heat for about 30 seconds; add the vinegar, pepper, and honey. Cook for about 1 minute. Add the strawberries and cook just long enough to warm through. Pour over the shrimp and serve on a bed of mixed greens.
Sparkling Strawberry Spritzer
1 cup strawberries, pureed in blender or food processor
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup club soda
2 tablespoons honey
4 whole strawberries for garnish
Combine the strawberry puree, wine, club soda, and honey. Pour into two chilled glasses and top each with two strawberries.
Tropical Fruit Medley with Strawberry-Balsamic Puree
Serves 6 to 8
1 banana, sliced
1 mango, cubed
1 papaya, sliced
1/2 pineapple, peeled, cored,
1 pint strawberries, hulled
2 tablespoons strawberry jam
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
Mint leaves for garnish
Arrange the fruit, except the strawberries, on a serving platter. Puree the strawberries, jam, vinegar, and sugar in a food processor until smooth. Strain to remove seeds. Pour over the fruit and garnish with mint.
Makes 2 loaves
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups sugar
I pint strawberries, sliced
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
l 1/2 cups toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter and flour two 8 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pans. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until fluffy. Add the oil, sugar, and strawberries and mix well. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Add to the strawberry mixture and mix just until combined. Stir in the nuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in pans for about 10 minutes before turning out. Slice and serve.
Makes about 2 cups
1 cup red wine
3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 cups small strawberries, hulled
In a medium saucepan, combine all of the ingredients, except the strawberries, with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and cook until the liquid is reduced to about 1/3 cups. Gently stir the berries into the hot syrup and let cool. Serve alone or over vanilla ice cream.
Learn all about strawberries at Strawberries.com.