One of my fondest memories is of a warm summer morning I spent picking strawberries in Maine with my friend Barbara. We sat down among the berries and ate all we could, giddy from the indulgence. No doubt, the best strawberries are the ones you eat in the patch, where the warmth from the sun makes them even more fragrant and juicy. But if you don’t have a patch nearby, the berries at farmers’ markets are almost as sweet because, generally, berries that don’t have to be shipped long distances are allowed to ripen fully on the vine, which increases the sugar content and flavor tremendously.
In my memory, strawberries are the first seasonal fruit to become available year-round. I guess that’s because we love them so much that we’d rather eat inferior berries in December than none at all. Whatever the time of year, when you buy berries, choose them with care. Look for ones that are bright flame red to deep scarlet, without white or green on their shoulders. They should be plump, firm, and deeply aromatic. Their green caps should look healthy. Smaller berries seem to have the best flavor; the huge ones, while striking, are often woolly and bland. And when you find in-season local berries, don’t pass them by; they’re a perfect opportunity to sink your teeth into summer’s sweetness.
Handling and storing strawberries
Strawberries are delicate, so handle them as little as possible to prevent bruising. When you bring them home, carefully sort out any that are mushy, moldy, or discolored. One bad berry can spoil the whole bowl. Spread the berries in a single layer on a baking sheet or shallow baking dish lined with paper towels. Stored in the refrigerator, they can keep for up to three days, but the sooner you eat them, the better. I don’t wash them until I’m ready to use them, and then I’m very gentle and I use as little water as possible. Don’t hull berries until after you’ve washed and dried them.
Strawberries beg to be eaten simply, but they’re happy to get dressed up, too. One of my favorite desserts is a bowl of sliced strawberries mixed with a flavored sugar. But when strawberries are bountiful, I just have to make all my old favorites, and as a recipe developer, I can’t resist trying new ideas, too. So on these pages, you’ll find more than a few pleasant surprises. I wasn’t convinced that baking strawberries was a good idea until I created the strawberry crisp. It tastes just like buttered toast with jam. The biscuits for the strawberry shortcake have a sublime, unusual texture because they’re made with whipped cream. And instead of the usual sliced fresh berries, I top the shortcakes with sweet, saucy roasted strawberries. Those same roasted strawberries make a terrific topping for ice cream sundaes. Add a dollop of strawberry whipped cream and a chocolate-dipped strawberry, and you’ve got a perfect celebration of summer.