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Strawberry Fields Forever

by Sharon Tyler Herbst

"Let me take you down 'cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields/
Nothing is real/ And nothing to get hung about/Strawberry Fields forever."

Okay, so maybe the Beatles "Magical Mystery Tour" song is more a reflection of psychedelically altered states than actual fields of strawberries, but the melody’s lazy lilt puts me in mind of America’s most popular berry. And few foods reflect summer’s glory more than the fragrant, succulent and immanently seductive strawberry. Indeed, British writer William Butler’s words "Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did" resound with sweet certainty to strawberry lovers.

What’s In A Name?
We know that the word "strawberry" was first recorded in the Old English period as streawberige -- streaw (straw) + berige (berry). What we’re not sure of is why the word straw is the first part of this compound. Some suggest it’s because the plant’s runners resemble straw, while others say it comes from the practice of protecting early-growing plants with a layer of straw. Personally, I like the theory that the microscopic strawlike extensions protruding from the fruit’s surface give this fruit its name.

A Berry With A Wild Past

Strawberries have been growing wild for over 2,200 years, with history recording them in Italy as long ago as 234 b.c. This juicy, heart-shaped berry—a member of the rose family—grows wild throughout the world and is native to every continent except Africa.

It’s Now Refined And Cultivated
It wasn’t until the late 13th century that strawberries were first cultivated. Here in the United States, early settlers found Native Americans growing strawberries as early as 1643. I won’t bore you with paragraphs of botanical details but suffice it to say that the most common American variety today is the result of several centuries of crossbreeding of America’s primary native variety—the wild Virginia strawberry—with a Chilean variety. The result is a hardy berry able to withstand both shipping and storage. Most agree that a side-by-side comparison of this popular American berry with the tiny, exquisitely sweet wild European Alpine strawberry—known in France as fraises des bois—will leave our larger version running second.

In the United States, California produces over 80 percent of the commercially grown strawberries, with an annual production of about one billion pounds! Florida is the second largest producing area and grows berries during winter months. Oregon is the third highest producer, although most of their commercially grown berries are used for frozen products. Other U.S. growing areas include Louisiana, Michigan and North Carolina. Imports come to us from Mexico and New Zealand.

And They’re So Good For You!
At least as far back as the Romans, fresh strawberries were reputed to have therapeutic powers for everything from loose teeth to gastritis. Nutritionists today attribute this brilliant red fruit with a panoply of health-giving properties. To begin with, strawberries are packed with vitamin C, said to check the accumulation of nitrosamines (carcinogenic organic compounds) in the intestine and to protect the good cholesterol (HDL) from destruction by nefarious oxygen free radicals. They contain plenty of potassium (good for lowering blood pressure) and pectin (a cholesterol-reducing fiber). Strawberries have also been touted for gout, and a mash of berries rubbed over sunburned skin is said to markedly reduce the sting. Know, however, that—as with any food—the fresher the berry the bigger nutritional bonus. Let strawberries stand for a few days or subject them to heat and you lose their wonderful health-giving attributes.

Nutrition In A Nutshell
What 1 cup of chopped fresh strawberries will give you:

calcium—23 mg.
carbohydrate—12 grams
cholesterol—0 mg.
fat—1 gram unsaturated
fiber—4 grams dietary
potassium—275 mg.
protein—1 gram
sodium—2 mg.
vitamin C—94 mg.
vitamin A—44 I.U.

Strawberry yields
1 pint = 2 cups whole berries (12 to 14 large berries); about 1 3/4 cups sliced or chopped strawberries; 1 1/2 cups puréed berries.

Choose Your Berries Wisely
Don’t just race into your market, grab any old basket of berries and be on your way. Look for brightly colored, plump strawberries with caps that are a fresh, even green. The berries should have a potent strawberry fragrance. A weak aroma signals fruit that isn’t fully ripe, and berries won't ripen after they’re picked. Before choosing, check the bottom of the berry container. If it's a see-through basket, look for unripe, bruised, shriveled or moldy berries. If it's a cardboard basket, be sure it's not stained with berry juice, an indicator that some berries are at least crushed, if not rotten.

Treat Them Right
Check berries as soon as you get them home. If there’s a moldy berry hiding in the midst toss it out to keep it from spoiling its neighbors. To retard bruising and spoilage, store strawberries in a single layer on a paper-towel-lined jelly-roll pan or other large pan with shallow sides. Cover the strawberries lightly with paper towel and refrigerate for no more than 2 to 3 days. The sooner you eat them, the more nutritious and flavorful they’ll be.

Don’t wash strawberries until just before using—they can easily become waterlogged so wash them quickly, but gently. Refrigerated berries aren’t as likely to bruise while washing as room-temperature berries. Hull the berries after they’re washed and blotted dry.

You can also store washed, completely dry strawberries (stems intact) by putting them in a large, screw-top jar. Place a paper towel on top of the berries (to absorb excess natural moisture), seal the jar tightly and refrigerate. Unwashed berries can also be stored in this manner but if you wash them first, the berries will be ready and waiting when you want them.

For Wintertime Blues
Arrange washed and dried strawberries in a single layer on a jelly roll pan (or other baking sheet with sides) and freeze, uncovered, until berries are hard. Transfer berries to a plastic bag; remove as much air as possible and seal tightly. Or, place a large plastic bag on a baking sheet and arrange a single layer of berries inside the bag. When the berries are frozen solid, seal the bag and return to the freezer. Berries may be frozen for up to 9 months.

Defrost frozen berries by placing the sealed plastic bag of them in a large bowl of cold water for about 10 minutes. Defrosted berries won't be as firm as fresh but the flavor will be wonderful. Frozen berries exude much more juice than fresh, so always reduce the liquid and increase the thickener when using them in pies or cobblers.

Berry Tip-Offs
* Good tools for coring strawberries include: The tip of a V-shaped can opener; a pointed paring knife; a strawberry huller (although buying a special tool certainly isn’t necessary).

* To sweeten berries, combine them with a tablespoon of granulated (or vanilla) sugar per cup of chopped or sliced berries; let stand at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes, stirring once or twice. Sugar softens cut strawberries so don't add it too far in advance of serving.

* Berries will sink to the bottom of a thin cake or quick-bread batter so be sure the batter is thick enough to hold the berries in suspension. Add berries at the last minute to avoid bruising that might be caused by excess stirring.

* Add a sophisticated touch to strawberries by drizzling them with a dash of liqueur— Frangelico (hazelnut-flavored), Grand Marnier or Cointreau (orange) and Amaretto (almond) marry nicely with berries.

* Create a double-berry treat by folding 1/2 cup crushed strawberries into 1 cup of whipping cream that's been whipped until stiff; sweetening is optional. Spoon over chopped berries, or use as a dip for whole berries, or use for strawberry shortcake.

* To avert a soggy crust when making strawberry pie: Wash, then hull the berries. Let berries drain upside-down on paper towels for at least 30 minutes to remove as much excess moisture as possible before placing berries on crust.

* Remove berry stains from your hands by rubbing them well with lemon wedges.

Berryations On A Theme
There are dozens of ways to enjoy delectable strawberries. My favorite is to coarsely chop them and drizzle with a kiss of cream and perhaps a soupçon of Cointreau. After a few minutes, the acid in the berries thickens the cream so it’s almost the texture of crème fraîche ... heaven! Or even dipping them in chocolate to create delicious chocolate strawberries. But strawberries are wonderful in baked goods, soups, salads...you name it.

Strawberry Trivia Question

How many seeds are there on a strawberry?

a.) none
b.) one
c.) 50
d.) 200

[answer at bottom of column. . . no fair peeking until you guess!]

Strawberries Romanoff Bread
makes 1 (8-inch) loaf
Patterned after the classic dessert of the same name, this orange-scented strawberry-studded bread is the perfect foil for the following Strawberry Devonshire Cream. Measure the flour by stirring it, loosely spooning it into the measuring cup, then leveling off with a the back side of a knife. Because cold ingredients slow the leavening action, it’s ideal to have the eggs and sour cream at room temperature. "Zest" is the outer colored portion of any citrus peel—the whitish pith below it is bitter. Overmixing creates a tough, coarse-textured quick bread so TLC is in order.

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh strawberries

Grease an 8- x 4-inch loaf pan. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and allspice; set aside. In the small bowl (if you have two sizes) of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beating at medium speed, add eggs, one at a time, then beat in sour cream, vanilla and orange zest. Add to flour mixture, stirring only until dry ingredients are moistened. Gently fold in strawberries. Turn into prepared pan; smooth surface. Bake 60 to 65 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand in pan 10 minutes before turning out onto rack to cool completely.

Strawberry "Devonshire" Cream
makes about 2 1/2 cups
Real Devonshire cream is a clotted cream that’s a specialty of Devonshire, England. It’s made by gently heating rich, unpasteurized milk until a semisolid layer of cream forms on the surface. Once cooled, the thickened cream is scooped off and used as a bread spread or spooned atop fruit or other desserts. This namesake is a lot easier to make, yet still rich and wonderful. It’s great on everything including scones, bread, pancakes, waffles...

... even your finger! Having your whipping cream, beaters and bowl very cold will produce optimum results.

1/2 cup whipping cream
2 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 cup finely chopped strawberries

In small bowl of electric mixer, stir together whipping cream and brown sugar; let stand 2 minutes. Whip cream until stiff. Gently fold in sour cream, then strawberries. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Strawberry Syrup
makes about 3 cups
A great topping for everything from pancakes and waffles to ice cream:

1 1/2 cups water
3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups coarsely chopped strawberries

Combine water, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Cook, without stirring, over high heat until syrup reaches 200°F on a candy thermometer. Stir in berries; cook for 2 more minutes. Cool, then refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

"Too much of a good thing can be wonderful."
Mae West, American icon and actress

Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake
serves 8
This shortcake—decidedly different than the classic dry biscuit topped with berries—boasts a moist, fudgy cake layered with strawberries and whipped cream swirled with strawberry purée. Decadence!

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup chocolate chips
2 large eggs
1/2 cup half & half
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
4 cups chopped fresh strawberries, divided
2 cups whipping cream
about 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Shortcake:Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan or round cake pan; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry cutter or 2 knives, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in chocolate chips. In a small bowl, lightly beat eggs, half & half and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.

To prepare in a food processor: Place flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in workbowl fitted with metal blade; process 15 seconds. Add butter; process in quick on/off pulses until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add chocolate chips; pulse twice to mix. In a small bowl, lightly beat eggs, half & half and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla together. With machine running, add liquid mixture, then chocolate chips; process only until dry ingredients are moistened.

Turn batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan set on a rack.

Filling and Topping: In a blender or food processor fitted with the metal blade, purée 1 cup of the strawberries. Strain purée through a fine sieve; set aside. (Berries may be puréed and strained a day in advance.)

Beat whipping cream until the consistency of thick pudding. Add remaining 2 teaspoons vanilla and confectioners’ sugar to taste. Continue beating until cream forms very firm peaks. Fold in 2 cups strawberries, then gently fold in strawberry purée so that it forms streaks—too much folding will turn the whipped cream pink.

Using a serrated knife, cut shortcake in half horizontally. Place bottom half on serving plate; top with half of berry-cream mixture, spreading evenly to edges. Top with second half of shortcake. Top with remaining berry cream, swirling decoratively. Garnish with remaining 1 cup strawberries. Refrigerate up to 6 hours before serving.

Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri [DAK-uh-ree]
makes 1 drink
History tells us that American mining engineer Jennings Cox invented the Daiquiri for visitors in 1896, naming it in honor of the nearby village of Daiquiri in eastern Cuba. That simple inspiration has become one of America’s most popular drinks, with infinite renditions, such as this fruity frozen version. If desired, the rim of the glass can be moistened with lime juice and dipped in granulated sugar for a frosted effect. Starting out with frozen strawberries will make this drink even slushier. If you prefer your Daiquiri in a more solid state, see the following Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri Pie recipe.

1 1/2 oz. (3 Tbsp.) light rum
3/4 oz. (1 1/2 Tbsp.) fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. (1 Tbsp.) Triple Sec
1/2 cup chopped fresh strawberries
1 tsp. powdered sugar
1 cup crushed ice
lime slice

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Cover and process at medium speed until smooth, about 15 seconds. Pour into large chilled cocktail glass; garnish with lime.

Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri Pie
serves 6 to 8
This heady creation can be enjoyed year-round by substituting 10 to 12 ounces frozen loosepack strawberries for the fresh.

1 (9-inch) crumb crust, commercial or homemade (see following recipe)
1 pint strawberries, hulled
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 (1/4-oz.) envelope unflavored gelatin (1 scant Tablespoon)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup light rum
1/2 pint (1 cup) whipping cream, whipped until stiff
5 large strawberries, leaves attached

If using a homemade crust, cool completely before filling. In a blender or food processor, purée hulled strawberries and sugar; set aside 15 minutes for mixture to "marry." Meanwhile, stir gelatin into lime juice; let stand 5 minutes to soften. Stir over medium heat just until gelatin dissolves (or microwave 30 seconds). With blender or food processor running at medium speed, add gelatin mixture and rum to puréed strawberry mixture. Strain through a fine sieve into a large bowl. Refrigerate, stirring often, until mixture begins to mound when spooned on top of itself. Fold in whipped cream. Spoon into prepared crust; smooth top. Freeze for 4 hours. Cut 4 of the large strawberries in half. Just before serving, decorate top edge of pie with the 8 strawberry halves; place whole strawberry in center.

Cookie Crumb Crust
makes 1 (9-inch) crust
Baking a crumb crust makes it crisper. The type of cookie you use depends on the pie filling—sugar cookies work for almost any filling, lemon or lime cookies are great for the Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri Pie, and gingersnaps are perfect for banana or coconut cream fillings.

1 1/2 cups fine, crisp cookie crumbs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
5 Tablespoons butter, melted

In a medium bowl combine all ingredients, mixing well. Turn mixture into lightly greased 9-inch pie pan. Using the back of a large spoon, press mixture firmly and evenly over bottom and up sides of pan. Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes. Cool completely on a rack before filling.

Answer to Strawberry Trivia Question

There are about 200 seeds blanketing a strawberry’s surface . . . who’d a thunk it?! The good part is that strawberry seeds are so miniscule that most of us don’t mind downing thousands of seeds per serving.

*For information on how to get personally autographed copies of Sharon Tyler Herbst’s books, see http://www.sharontylerherbst.com.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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