Strawberries appear each year at this time, the most delicious and romantic of berries that are the true messengers of summer to come. In ancient Rome wild strawberries were considered to represent the goddess of love and in medieval times they denoted purity, passion, and healing in both paintings and literature. Strawberry leaves were even the insignia of princes and higher nobility in 17th-century England.
Our large, cultivated strawberries came from adjacent fields of strawberries grown in the Brittany region of France in 1750. Amazingly, two different species of plants had been imported from North America and Chile, and by their hybridization gave us the now predominant source of commercial strawberries. Strawberries are prized for their juicy sweetness and aroma, but to savor their true delicious aroma you need wild strawberries or at least locally grown berries found in farmers markets.
Strawberries are delicious fresh or cooked in pies, compotes, or jam, and absolutely decadent when dipped in chocolate. Most commonly they are served at this time in strawberry shortcake, which is a combination of a biscuit or cake with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Here are two recipes for biscuits and scones, each of which makes a tasty basis for a strawberry shortcake.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sift together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 3 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt. Cut 1/3 cup butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or two knives until rice-sized particles.
Make a well in the mix, pour in 7/8 cup milk (1 cup less 2 tbsp) and blend with a fork until it forms a soft dough. The dough should be sticky, or the biscuits will not be delicate. Pour it on a floured pastry cloth, wax paper, or board and quickly knead 6-8 times only.
To make large drop biscuits for a shortcake, drop heaping tablespoons of dough on the pan and slightly flatten the top of each biscuit, brush with cream and bake 15-17 minutes until lightly browned. Cool slightly before cutting apart and filling with berries.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment. Dice dried apricots to make 1/2 cup and crystallized ginger to make 1/3 cup diced fruit.
In a Cuisinart, pulse together 3 cups all-purpose flour with 2 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp baking soda.
Cut 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter in tablespoon sized pieces and toss lightly in the flour blend. Then pulse Cuisinart until the butter yields rice sized pieces. Instead of Cuisinart for these first steps, you can use the methods described above for the biscuit recipe. Transfer the flour mix to a bowl and toss thoroughly with the dried fruit. Make a well in the center.
In a small bowl stir together 1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons buttermilk with 1 tsp vanilla and lemon flavoring plus 1-inch peeled grated fresh ginger. Pour buttermilk mix into the well and quickly mix the dough as above. Divide the sticky dough in half and form two flattened adjacent rounds on the prepared pan. Using a sharp knife divide each round in 6 wedges, brush with buttermilk and sprinkle lightly with Demerara sugar (optional). Bake about 20 minutes until lightly browned. Scones can also be reheated and served with butter or jam.
Wash, hull, and slice the strawberries, toss with a tablespoon of sugar and allow to sit for 30 minutes before serving. Cut off the top of each biscuit or scone, spoon a generous amount of sliced strawberries on the bottom and replace the top. Decorate with whipped cream on top and serve.
Rhubarb sabayon with strawberries
This is an adaptation of an old Gourmet recipe, using two spring seasonal fruits. Bring 1 cup chopped fresh rhubarb, 1/2 cup sugar and 1 cup orange Muscat wine (or Marsala) to simmer in a saucepan with stirring until the sugar is melted. Continue to simmer for about 5 minutes until the rhubarb starts to fall apart. Cool slightly and puree in a blender.
Divide 1-quart sliced strawberries in 6 glasses. Beat 2 eggs in a metal bowl with a hand mixer for 1 minute. Then add hot rhubarb in a stream and continue beating constantly while placing the bowl over a simmering water pan. Beat for about 6 minutes until the mixture becomes thick and is tripled in volume. Spoon the sabayon over strawberries and serve immediately.
Ah, it’s June, the aroma and flavor of strawberries in all their variations!
(I. Winicov Harrington, of Waldoboro, is the author of “How to Eat Healthy and Well for Less Than $5.00 a Day: The Smart-Frugal Food Plan.” For more information, go to winicov-harrington.com.)