I spotted them last week at a nearby fresh- produce market, where I always make a quick pass to see what’s available on the “seconds” table.
To my surprise, there were a considerable number of boxes of pretty, red strawberries displayed there, with a quite reasonable price on them. So, although I’d stopped at the market only for bananas on that day, I quickly snatched up a box of the berries. I decided I could figure out exactly how to use them later.
For many years, I’d raised, or at least attempted to raise, strawberries. We always had a patch of them in our large family garden while I was growing up. Many of the first afternoons after school let out each June were spent gathering the sweet, juicy fruit, warm from the sun.
Slicing and preparing them was probably one of my earlier lessons in the kitchen from mom, since you can’t do too much to mess up freshly sliced strawberries. They were often served as our supper dessert, with just a light tossing of sugar and a bit of milk poured over them.
Once the row was in full production, a batch or two of strawberry jam usually went into containers, always delicious on fresh bread with butter, and especially enjoyed during the cold, dark days of winter.
Mom would also make her special seasonal treat for us, strawberry pies. Fresh capped and mashed strawberries were brought to a boil with sugar and cornstarch for thickening, then poured into her homemade, baked pie shells. And it was the one time of the year when we enjoyed whipped cream, the Reddi-Wip kind that shoots out of aerosol cans.
My paternal grandfather once — accidentally, he steadfastly insisted until he passed years later — squirted the projectile-propelled whipped cream right into my face. It was gooey and messy, but still tasted good scraped off my face and licked off my fingers.
One of the few times I’ve made Mom’s recipe for strawberry pies, I managed to trip on my way from the refrigerator to the table and dumped the pie upside-down on the floor. Yep, we scooped it up and devoured it despite the fact that it was more a cobbler at that point. Slathered with whipped cream, the upside-down strawberry pie still tasted delicious, despite its ratty appearance.
As a friend recently lamented, after ripping out her fading strawberry patch, rainy weather, slugs and berry-lovin’ robins frequently wreaked havoc with the early June strawberry yield. With readily available ones locally, I finally just “threw in the towel” on raising strawberries.
That is, until now. Back in early spring, a friend called to see if I’d be interested in sharing some strawberry plants. She wanted to purchase and plant some starts, but didn’t want the quantity required to purchase.
Thus, a formerly empty edge of the asparagus patch now sports nearly two dozen strawberry plants, leafing out nicely and hinting to our backyard robins about future fruit thievery. I just put in reserve a nice piece of floating row cover that came my way, in anticipation of possible fruit wars next year.
And, our first berries of the season were transformed into strawberry shortcake for a quick supper that evening, a true taste of June. The shortcake was of the old-fashioned, biscuit kind, from Mom’s recipe, served warm, covered with sweetened, sliced strawberries and milk. That’s the food of the gods, surpassed only by sliced, sweetened strawberries slathered over a dish of vanilla ice cream.
If you’ve never tasted old-fashioned shortcake, here’s my mom’s recipe:
2 cups flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons melted butter
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
Beat egg well, then add other liquid ingredients to egg. (Note: I usually also add about 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, my tweak to the recipe.)
Add dry ingredients and stir just until moistened; don’t overmix. Pour into an 8- or 9-inch pie pan and bake at 350 F until top is firm, about 20-25 minutes. Serve warm with berries and milk. Enjoy!