At some point in the past 30 years or so, it became possible to buy strawberries all year long. At first it was wonderful. The out-of-season berries weren’t as good as local berries in season but it didn’t matter. It was enough that they existed.
Over time, those sub-par, giant, cardboard berries became the norm. That’s just what strawberries tasted like. They were good enough for grocery stores to continue selling them during strawberry season and customers to continue buying them but they are only a pale reflection of what strawberries can be.
But now, for one month only — a month that is already half over — the real deal is here. Venture out of your usual grocery store, find yourself a strawberry patch where you can buy berries (there are four in Surry County) and the clock will turn back to the way things were before. Best of all, these sweet, delicious berries cost a fraction of the price of their cardboard cousins in the grocery store. Better quality and taste for a lesser price. That’s not something that happens often.
Since the experience of fresh, real strawberries is so time-sensitive, you’ll want to eat them a lot while you can. Every day, if possible. At first, the berry itself is enough. But even perfection becomes tiresome after awhile.
But there are many incredibly easy ways to dress up strawberries and make them into a real dessert. Start withe classic. Just whip some cream. At some point, go a step further and add poundcake, either homemade or purchased.
If you haven’t tried fresh strawberries with crème Anglaise, you don’t know what you’re missing. Crème Anglaise is one of those things that sounds fancy and is assumed to be difficult since it’s generally only found in upscale restaurants but it is simple to prepare. It’s a thin custard, usually vanilla flavored with perhaps a touch of spirits for added flavor, that is the consistency of a sauce that can be poured over fresh berries for a decadent dessert that is quick and easy enough for a weeknight. Especially since a batch of it will keep several days in the refrigerator, if you don’t lap it all up first.
Last but certainly not least is a snack so simple that its name is the recipe. Strawberries dipped in chocolate can be an elegant dessert. It can also be made by a small child if an adult melts the chocolate for the child. Throw chocolate in the microwave in a Pyrex measuring cup and give it 30 seconds and check it. Repeat until it’s almost melted and stir til it is smooth and melted. If you’ve got more than one kid, put each one in charge of a different kind of chocolate; bittersweet, semi-sweet, milk or white. Some supervision will be necessary if you want some of the dipped berries to go onto the tray instead of going directly into the little tummies of your assistants.
Fresh locally grown strawberries are available at the Mount Airy farmers market in the parking lot of Mill Creek General Store on Tuesday mornings from 9 a.m. until noon and at the Elkin farmers market on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until noon.
They are also available at the following farms. Call for times and prices.
Snow Strawberries, Dobson — 336-356-8598
Cave Strawberries, Dobson — 336-710-3222
Bullington Farms, Pinnacle — 336-710-1357
Country Road Strawberries, Pinnacle — 336-325-3331
A French recipe that translates as “English cream.” But whatever it’s origin, it’s delicious over or under fresh strawberries. The only tricky part is getting the eggs hot without scrambling them. The recipe is very detailed about that but if you mess it up, pour the sauce through a fine strainer to sort out any chunky parts.
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 tsp. cornstarch or potato starch
1 3/4 cup boiling milk
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. rum, cognac or brandy (optional)
Place the egg yolks and sugar into a mixing bowl and combine, beating for 2 to three minutes, until the mixture is pale yellow and forms a ribbon. Beat in the cornstarch. Keeping the mixer running, gradually add the boiling milk in a thin stream of droplets to allow the yolks to slowly warm. If you add the milk too quickly, the eggs will cook and you’ll be finished. Use a spoon and drip the milk into the yolk mixture, one spoon at a time. When all the milk has been added, pour the mixture into a heavy saucepan and set over moderate heat, stirring lowly and continuously with a wooden spoon and reaching all over the bottom and sides of the pan, until the sauce thickens just enough to coat the spoon. Do not let the custard come anywhere near a simmer or you’ll have a panful of very sweet scrambled eggs. (Max temperature would be 165°F. on a candy thermometer). Take the sauce off the heat and beat it for a minute or two to cool it. Beat in the vanilla and any optional flavoring you choose.
1 pint strawberries
½ cup sugar, or to taste
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract, optional
Hull strawberries, then wash them and chop into 1/4-inch-thick pieces. Toss with half the sugar, and wait 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they give up their juices. Place half the strawberries and all the juice in a blender, and puree. Pour puree back in bowl with chopped strawberries. Whip the cream with remaining sugar and vanilla until cream is stiff and holds peaks easily. Fold berries and cream together, and serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to two hours.
This recipe originated in Mount Airy with Wilma Fleming and this version is available on the website of the New York Times.
8 tbsp. (1 stick) butter
4 heaping cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) hulled strawberries (halved if large) or pitted cherries
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. self-rising flour
1 cup milk
½ tsp. salt
Heat oven to 350°F. Put 5 tablespoons butter in a 9-by-12-inch baking pan, and place in oven; remove when melted. In a large saucepan, combine fruit, vanilla, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon butter and 1 cup water. Place over low heat and simmer until fruit is slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Drain fruit, reserving liquid and fruit separately; there should be about 1 cup liquid.
In a small saucepan, combine remaining 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons of the sugar and 2 tablespoons of the flour. Place over medium heat and stir until butter melts and mixture is well blended and thickened, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the liquid from the fruit, and whisk until smooth. Add another 1/2 cup liquid and whisk again. Add mixture to fruit, combining well.
In a medium bowl, combine milk, remaining 1 cup flour, the salt and remaining 3/4 cup sugar. Whisk to consistency of pancake batter.
Pour fruit mixture into the pan with the melted butter. Carefully pour batter over fruit, taking care to spread it so it touches the edge of the pan. There will be some bare spots. Bake until crust is golden, about 35 minutes.
4 generous servings
2 pints ripe, well-rinsed strawberries
½ cup sugar, or more to taste
4 cups flour
3 tbsp. sugar
¼ tsp. salt
5 tsp. baking powder
1 ¼ cups butter
3 cups whipping cream
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
Pick over and hull strawberries. Cut in half or slice, depending on size. Gently crush about a quarter of the berries with a fork to release their juices. Mix with remaining berries and the 1/2 cup of sugar, adding more sugar if necessary. Set aside, covered, for about half an hour to develop flavor. Preheat oven to 450°F. Into a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, salt and baking powder. Add 3/4 cup of softened butter, and rub into dry ingredients as for pastry. Add 1 1/4 cups cream, and mix to a soft dough. Knead the dough for one minute on a lightly floured pastry board, then roll it out to about 1/2-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut an even number of rounds – 2 rounds per serving. Use a little of the butter to grease a baking sheet. Place half the rounds on it. Melt remaining butter and brush a little on the rounds; place remaining rounds on top. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven, and pull shortcakes apart. Brush the insides with some of the remaining melted butter. Beat remaining cream until it thickens. Add vanilla. Beat again just until thick. Place a bottom half of a shortcake on each plate. Top with a generous spoonful of berries. Cover with a top half, add a few more berries, and top with whipped cream. Serve immediately.
Fresh strawberries and whipped cream are piled up on top of a big meringue.
For the meringue:
4 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 ¼ cups superfine sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. white-wine vinegar
A few drops vanilla extract
For the topping:
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. superfine sugar
2 cups heavy cream
To prepare meringue: Heat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and draw a circle on the paper using an 8- or 9- inch cake pan as a guide. Flip the parchment over so the pencil marking is facing down (this ensures that the pencil won’t transfer to the meringue). In bowl of an electric mixer, combine egg whites and salt. Begin beating at low speed, slowly increasing to high. Continue until satiny peaks begin to form; gradually beat in sugar a tablespoon at a time until meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle in cornstarch, white-wine vinegar and vanilla, and fold in gently. Mound onto parchment within circle, and shape into a disk, flattening top and smoothing sides. Place in oven, and immediately reduce heat to 300 degrees. Bake 1 hour 15 minutes. Turn off heat, and allow meringue to cool completely in oven.
To prepare topping: In a mixing bowl, combine strawberries, vanilla, balsamic vinegar and sugar. Cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours. To serve, carefully peel off parchment and place meringue on a platter or cake stand. Gently crack the top with the back of a soup spoon to make a shallow nest for the whipped cream and berries. Whip cream until it is thick enough to hold peaks, and spoon it evenly over meringue. Cover cream with strawberries, allowing a small amount of their liquid to dribble onto cream. Serve immediately.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.