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19 June 2009

silly for strawberries

strawberries for jam II

Some of you might remember that 1970s commercial for sugary cereal: "I'm cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!"

That's how we feel right now. We're senseless for strawberries in June.

strawberries at the market

I miss strawberries all year long. A sweetness far deeper than sugar could ever dream. The red juice smeared on my lips. The little grit of small seeds in my teeth.

Oh sure, we could freeze them and retrieve the memory of them in January, when the world feels bleak. But we don't. We wait. Strawberries are June.

strawberries for jam

And we wait until we can buy pints smeared with strawberries that didn't make it in, some of the strawberries a little bruised from the picking, some of them with dirt still clinging — the strawberries from the farmers we know.

Sometimes, in April or May, the social occasion arrives that has us eating strawberries from California, the ones that come in big plastic packs, all the berries lined up perfect, not a dent in them. And inside, white like frost, the berries withered into themselves. All looks, no personality. (I'll let you make the analogy to the vapid celebrity of your choice, here.) No, thanks.

To quote my friend Matthew, ""I won't buy strawberries from California, not because I'm a dogmatic locavore but because strawberries from California suck."

(I've received so many comments by Californians who are offended that I have to clarify: of course strawberries in CA are wonderful. The ones they ship to us are terrible!I know that in a field outside Fresno, or on the table just off the garden in Thousand Oaks, strawberries taste mighty fine.)

I agree with him even more, now that we have strawberries in our backyard. Yesterday, late afternoon, Little Bean and I sat in the grass, picking tiny alpine strawberries off the vine, popping them into our mouths. Red smeared on our chins, dirt on our hands, and big grins between us.

This is our first summer with our daughter.

preparing strawberries for jam

Last week, my new friend Jeanne (and her darling daughter) came over, a giant canning pot in hand, along with half a flat of strawberries she had found at the farmers' market the day before. While her daughter arced back and forth on our tree swing outside, and Little Bean chattered from her bouncing chair, Jeanne and I made strawberry jam.

The mystery of lowering jars of food into boiling water and waiting was an enormous pleasure. (I went out and bought my own canning pot and utensils yesterday. There will be pickles on our shelves soon.) The jam in jars gleamed from the kitchen counter at the end of the day. I'm hooked.

But in a way, what I loved best was the companionable silence as Jeanne and I stood side by side and sliced strawberries, the sunlight grazing our fingers.

scones in the afternoon

A few days ago, our good friend Lara arrived at the house with a bag full of flours, buttermilk, fresh yeast, and a jug of canola oil. We were making doughnuts.

Lara's writing a doughnut cookbook, you see, to be published next fall by Sasquatch Books. She'll have master recipes for all the major doughnuts, as well as dozens of delicious variations on every one. And, she's going to include gluten-free doughnuts.

So we gathered to test recipes. Lara had already worked out a basic recipe. We tweaked it, with different fats, and variations in flours, and guar gum. She plopped the first doughnuts in the bubbling oil and we watched. Golden and holding their shape, these looked like doughnuts. The three of us huddled around the plate covered with a paper towel and waited for them to cool. I popped a piece in my mouth.

Light and lightly browned, slightly sweet....oh hell with the words. It was a doughnut. Just look at it.

I grew a little teary, actually. I don't miss gluten. Except, I had not eaten a doughnut I liked in over four years. All those sense memories came rushing back. Satisfying.

(I'm afraid I can't give the recipe, however. It will be in Lara's book. Worth the wait.)

We felt giddy.

Later in the afternoon, since all the flours were on the counter still, I pulled out some butter and made an adaptation of Alice's sweet cream scones. You know why? Because she slathered one with strawberry jam, and that was enough for me. (My picture is a tribute to hers.)

strawberry-rhubarb crisp

And if we're not eating strawberries right out of the pint container, or making them into jam, or slathering them into scones? We're making crisp. Danny wakes up in the morning and makes coffee, and then starts sifting flours for the latest incarnation of gluten-free crisp goodness. (There are a number of our favorite recipes here.) This one is a strawberry-rhubarb crisp, made from the last of the rhubarb in our garden.

That's how we like to eat strawberries when they are in season. All the time. In every combination. Until we are suffused with strawberries and our fingers are permanently stained.

That's how we like to eat every fruit in season. We wait until they arrive in the farmers' market, in anticipation, going without all year. And then we go from smitten to sated, within a few weeks.

I'm not tired of strawberries yet. But I'm almost there. After all, the raspberries are almost ripe...

strawberry-rhubarb lemonade


The other day, Danny made some simple syrup with the last of the rhubarb, and some strawberries we had sitting on the counter. When we tasted it, we both thought, "Lemonade."

Would you like some?

2 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 cups rhubarb, fine diced
1 pint strawberries, cleaned, tops removed, and rough chopped
1 sprig mint
8 lemons, juiced
2 quarts water

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil on medium heat. Add the rhubarb and strawberries at this point. Keep a pastry brush with a bit of water next to the pot and wet down the sides of the saucepan if the sugar creeps up. When the sugar has completely dissolved, turn the heat down to the lowest setting and let it simmer for 5 minutes.

Take the saucepan off the heat. Throw in the mint.

Allow the syrup to steep for 30 minutes.

Strain the syrup. Save the fruit. There might be enough flavor to repeat this process with more sugar and water.

When the syrup has cooled, juice all the lemons. Combine the syrup and lemon juice. Add the 2 quarts of water. Stir it up. Taste and adjust according to your ideal of lemonade.

Makes 2 quarts.


At 10:26 AM, Anonymous Jen said...

Last summer I made quite a few batches of jam - strawberry, raspberry, apricot. All are delicious in their own ways, BUT: strawberry is the belle of the ball. As the year goes on, the glory of that jam grows and blossoms. Strawberry jam in December or January (jam that you made and remember and love) is a salve for winter's relative modesty.

Enjoy the PINGS! and POPS! and happy berry season to you!

PS - Thank you so much for your work. My sister recently came to the gluten-free world, and the first time she mentioned it to me I sent her the URL to your site. It felt so good to be able to hear her question and give her some help, even just as the conduit. And I know she was encouraged by all of the real and delicious options she really has.

At 10:30 AM, Blogger Jennywenny said...

I'll vouch for my san diego strawberries from Bewise Farm. Bloody lovely! We've been getting a pound or two of strawberries in our CSA for a while, looks like its slowing down now :(

I made the mistake of buying some in a store and they were massive and watery and boring.

At 10:44 AM, Blogger Joseph Erdos said...

Oh, wow. Those strawberries look gorgeous. I just want to go out and buy some now. I'd love to try that strawberry-rhubarb lemonade. I would have never thought to make a drink like that.

At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have a wild strawberry patch that we put in three years ago, here in our small city yard. And this year, thanks to plentiful rain, the strawberries are large (for the wild kind) and they are dee-lish.

Our patch is of the Summer-Long variety, an heirloom that perfectly sates my need for these little gems.

Because exactly, we do not buy them any other time of the year -- except for an occasional chocolate covered variety from our local chocolate maker. :)

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear you. I'm about cherried out (cobbler, jam, and fresh by the fistful) so now I'm taking advantage of the last of the berry season. I've got blueberry jam done, strawberries macerating with vanilla and sugar for strawberry-vanilla jam, and some apricots waiting in the wings. While I'm canning I'm eating bits of everything--I plan on being thoroughly tired of berries in a few weeks when it's time to really start going on those Texas peaches.

At 11:31 AM, Blogger Jennifer Jo said...

Our strawberries are done (and it wasn't the best season---sigh), but my daughter just brought in a giant red raspberry and split it with me. Yum.

At 11:44 AM, Blogger Pearl said...

love strawberries.

At 12:47 PM, Anonymous nikki said...

Yes! Jennywenny is right! We have yummy berries here in San Diego. Be Wise Ranch strawberries are fantastic, and one can find them, not just through the CSA, but also at a number of health food stores around here. All berries are best eaten closer to the locale they were grown. Perhaps that is why California's best berries are kept here in California. Instead, the commercially grown Unusually Large Strawberries (that no self-respecting fresh fruit eater would want) are trucked to other states. ;)

At 3:05 PM, Anonymous La Niña said...

Whatcom county is berry berry good to us!

The strawberry stand on Slater road is open... our raspberries are starting to blush, and we drive by the massive blueberry field on the way to I-5. (Can't wait for flats of blueberries. This year I'm making blueberry conserves.)

Summer is: berries, cherries, more berries, plums, apples, pears- in our yard, and in that order.

And your lemonade- with some sparkling wine added would be heavenly and thirst quenching and a little decadent.

At 3:45 PM, Blogger Sirena said...

You never fail to amaze, Shauna! I have such a hankering for strawberries now I don't know what to do (the light is fading in DC and the only options are great frozen ones for our post-workout shakes, or Whole Foods)... but tomorrow morning, straight to the farmer's market. Plus, you've pointed me towards two lovely new blogs I can't wait to enjoy. Your site is brimming with good stuff for everyone, gf or not (after all, you don't have to be "one of the cool kids" to cook gf and adore your site, book, world).

At 5:42 PM, Anonymous Janice said...

My favorite strawberry patch is off a back road in the Wine Country of Northern California. I used to live only moments away from it; now it's an hour or so away. So, yes, we too have amazing strawberries, but they are far too delicate to survive plastic packaging. I can't bear to eat those, and every couple of years, I try them again, and into the compost heap they go. I honestly don't even know where in California those are even grown!

At 6:11 PM, Anonymous Janice said...

Know exactly what you mean about the strawberries. they started about a week ago up here in BC, and there is NO comparison to the things from california (no white shoulders here!). I've been going crazy canning as well, b/c its been such a great year for them. 2 flats canned, one more to go!

At 7:41 PM, Blogger Amy Green said...

How I wish there was a strawberry field nearby! My grandma used to take us berry picking every summer and then we'd help her make strawberry jam. This is the first year we've tried to grow them ourselves and, being the novice gardners we are, the bunnies have eaten them all. We're learning. :) I made the most wonderful strawberry jam last week, which made me feel so connected to my family roots.

At 11:09 PM, Anonymous Ali (Whole Life Nutrition) said...

We are silly for strawberries here to! My girls have been picking basketfuls of strawberries from our garden. Tom built this large 3-tiered strawberry bed about a year ago; he is not handy so I was very impressed that he actually did something like that!

Today they filled a large Pyrex bowl up - now I just need to do something with them. Strawberry lemonade sounds quite nice!

About 10 days ago we made our first batch of strawberry coconut ice cream for the season. Though I admit, I bought berries from California for that (ours were not quite ready then). Every time we went to the co-op my girls begged me to buy strawberries, finally, I acquiesced.

Happy Solstice! -Ali :)

At 3:45 AM, Blogger sweetpea said...

I feel the same way about Cherries! I loose complete sensibility about eating local and the carbon cost of my food when it comes to Cherries. Canning is the best! Sounds like your having fun.

At 4:24 AM, Blogger Littles said...

Shawna, I'd love to send you a jar of blackberry jam from Cape Cod in August!

At 9:53 AM, Anonymous smallbluebird said...

Not to pile on, but Matthew might want to take a little trip out to Chino here in California and pick up some strawberries from that little roadside stand just off McKinley. With homemade ice cream, unbelievable!

At 10:19 AM, Blogger Shayla said...

Oh yes, rhubarb makes great 'lemonaide', doesn't it. Your photos are gorgeous, especially the crisp... drool.

At 11:09 AM, Blogger Gorgeous Gluten-Free Girlfriend said...

What a beautiful pile of strawberries! Makes me feel like I'm back in my grandma's back yard in the summertime.

At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Laura said...

Hello. I recently discovered your blog and I love your photographs and positive spirit. I have also been crazy for strawberries as of late. In fact, I blogged about it at my patient health blog just last week!

Not that I needed much motivation, but you've definitely inspired me to head out to the farmers market and get some more of these local delicacies. My former supply was quickly devoured...mmm.

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Bonnie said...

How perfect. I just arrived home from the u-pick with 21 pounds of strawberries.

With the potato-asparagus salad you passed on last month and now strawberry-rhubarb lemonade, you are keeping me in fine food and beverage this season.

Thank you!

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Kristina Strain said...

Oh, welcome to the wonderful world of canning, my friend! I've been burning with anticipation all week (our strawberries aren't quite ready yet) and so eager to start filling jars. Have fun!

At 5:35 PM, Anonymous sus said...

omg! the strawberry rhubarb lemonade was amazing. we made it today for our father's day gathering. many many compliments. thanks for sharing! i'm planning to serve the reserved fruit on top of vanilla ice cream tomorrow. we bought 12+ lbs of strawberries from the local pick your own stand last wed and they were GONE by friday. no kidding. like kissing sunshine. we'll have to head back to make the jam, always a hit around here!

At 7:05 PM, Blogger k said...

The lemonade recipe sounds great - I have already been making variations of and freezing it into popsicles (perfect with the hot weather and kids visiting!), but I will definitely try this version. I already have a batch of strawberries from the U-pick late last week and am planning another trip soon.

And you're right, raspberries are nearly here and they are my favourite!

At 9:32 PM, Blogger Rachael Narins said...

Now...I would argue that any Gaviota or Seascape strawberry from Harry' Berrys or McGrath farms in LA would change your mind (and personally, I think you have CA mixed up with Chile...LOL.) But what a joyful experience you seem to have had!!! Picking berries is the best. xoxo

At 11:26 PM, Blogger Magpie Ima said...

I just worked through two flats of delicious Hood strawberries, making jam and filling freezer bags for our winter smoothies. Something was missing and now, after reading this post, I realize it was my dear friend Laura who should have been standing alongside me, sticky and stained in my kitchen and not in far away Indiana.

I am happy to report that my teen son (not generally known for his discriminating palate) finally swore off California frankenberries this year after eating his fill of sweet little Oregon beauties.

At 1:43 AM, Blogger Mouse said...

Nothing like picking your own strawberries from the garden. Mine are currently going into pavlovas. I made my second one ever this weekend ....... it was huge ...... there were various knocks at the front door ...... and it was gone within half a day :)

Glad to hear all is well with you & your family.

At 6:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tomorrow I go to pick strawberries at the local U-pick farm. I am planning on loads of jam and a pie or two. I love strawberries. Fresh from the field with skin so ripe and full that just the lightest touch can erupt juice from the skin. I notice that fresh berries have a depth of flavor that the grocery ones don't.

At 9:00 AM, Blogger MsJess said...

Count me in as cuckoo for strawberries. They are my favorite fruit and the california ones don't taste right. Although sadly my local crop in the MD/VA area hasn't been so great this year becuase we've had too much rain. I still buy pint and pint becuase I'm a sap.

Thanks for your recipes!

At 12:31 PM, Anonymous jeanne said...

ahhh. i am reading matthew's wonderful book right now and came across his statement this weekend.. i was almost offended! then i realized that what gets sent out of state commercially probably are underripe and not the best.. i live on the central coast of CA and am spoiled with amazing berries both from CSA and farmer's markets, and even some of our local grocery stores buy local produce. my favorite way to enjoy them is sliced, sprinkled w/ tiny bit of vanilla sugar and good balsamic and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. i get horrid looks and refusals to try a bite from my man, but i don't care, cuz it's more for me that way!

love your blog btw, have read for years even tho i don't have celiac; just find your writing style one of the best i've come across on the web, and love the things you have to say!)

At 7:35 PM, Blogger gfe--gluten free easily said...

Love that second photo. I have to confess that I'm not on board with strawberries (and a lot of fruits) yet. I'll gladly enjoy them in a daquiri though. ;-) I've learned to eat so many foods over the last several years, I'm sure strawberries will come.

Enjoyed your comment on the "companionable silence." It's really lovely when you can work quietly side by side like that.


At 8:51 AM, Anonymous dogear6 said...

I had to laugh at your comments about the strawberries from California and then your clarification that it was the ones that got shipped in. I went to a local pick-you-own and had the same problem - they were pretty, but tasteless. They were a commercial berry and tasted like it. Since I'd bought quite a lot, I processed them anyhow.

A few weeks later, I went to a pick-your-own near Atlanta and these were delicious! Unfortunately, my daughter kept them all. Maybe I'll convince her to thaw some the next time I'm there.

At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This is our first summer with our daughter."

The only thing that has made a summer of eating local, fresh, succulent goodness better is sharing the textures, smells, and flavors with my daughter. She just turned 4, and we're just starting our first summer on our very own farm in NH. I can't wait for our first meals from our very own garden!

Thanks for your blog and book (I just finished the book this afternoon!) I'm not sure gluten is my problem, but something is plaguing me and bringing my health and energy down. Your story of loving your body is inspiring to me, even if I don't end up being gluten-free forever. And in the mean time, it's great to have some awesome recipes for inspiration!

Caren in NH

At 7:06 AM, Blogger Johnna said...

Donuts? Did you say DONUTS?!? I'm in my fourth week eating gluten-free and am staying positive, outside of donut-deprivation. I've tried 3 recipes to make my own donuts, none incredibly successful. Thanks for giving me something yummy to look forward to!

At 2:45 AM, Blogger Can Eat! said...

What a fabulous idea for Lemonade! I have Strawberries and Rhubarb growing in the garden...can't wait to try this out!

Can Eat!


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