Strawberries and summer just seem to go together, hence the term "June-bearing" to describe common strawberry varieties.
Thanks to "ever-bearing" and "day-neutral" types, however, strawberries show their rosy faces in late spring — the first fruits of a new growing season — and reappear several times throughout the summer and into early fall. Local orchards and brambles certainly furnish more plentiful produce, also usually easier to pick. But strawberries' juicy sweetness ends the long winter and early-spring drought on seasonal fruits.
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons sugar, divided
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Zest of 1 lemon
1 pound fresh strawberries, washed well
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whipped cream or lemon sorbet, for serving
Heat oven to 425 F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray then line it with parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, heat 3/4 cup water with the butter, salt and 2 tablespoons of the sugar until boiling. Add the flour and stir vigorously while continuing to cook until mixture forms a ball, pulls away from sides of pan and all dry flour has been absorbed.
Transfer dough to bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed with paddle attachment for 1 minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down bowl and making sure that each is incorporated into mixture before adding next.
Using a large spoon, form dough into golf ball-sized mounds and arrange on prepared baking sheet, allowing 3 inches between each. Bake for 10 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350 F and continue to bake until golden, crispy and light, about another 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
While puffs bake and cool, hull and cut up the strawberries; combine in a medium bowl with the vanilla and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Lightly crush strawberries with a fork. Set aside.
After puffs have cooled, cut them in half crosswise. Fill each with berries and some of the whipped cream or sorbet.
Makes 12 servings.
— Recipe from The Associated Press.
It's easy to be tempted by those miniature, clamshell crates from California. Sure, they look like strawberries. They probably even smell like strawberries, at least until the first fuzz of mold appears, if it hasn't already.
There's a literally hollow victory in purchasing strawberries from south of the border. Inside those nicely tapered specimens is a dry, mealy cavity. And the berries' pale shoulders show their true color: unripe and practically flavorless.
These stand-ins only make the appeal of local strawberries, in season, so much stronger. When Wild Bee Honey Farm & Gardens brings organic, ever-bearing berries to local farmers markets, plan to shop no later than 9 a.m. Any later, and you're are out of luck.
The Curtis family of Eagle Point says modeling their two acres after a home garden extends its crop of strawberries. Their plants protrude through otherwise solid layers of weed cloth, which not only keeps leafy invaders at bay but warms the soil and makes picking easier. They rotate the plants on a three-year cycle and feed the fields with fish- and kelp-based fertilizers.
Praying mantises and ladybugs raise their young in the berry bushes and keep pest populations down. The Curtises' own bees pollinate the strawberries through their multiple blooming cycles.
Although Oregon, historically, had been the country's third-largest producer of strawberries behind California and Florida, the Curtis farm was about the only local operation when the couple started a decade ago. Low prices exacerbated by labor-intensive growing and picking practices had contributed to declining cultivation statewide.
It's too bad because Oregon's cooler climate is thought to produce a sweeter berry, among other fruits. And the smaller the berry, the more concentrated the flavor. While the Curtises' smaller berries means there are more in a pint, some customers choose the smallest they can get their hands on.
But intermittent yields and small fruit size from ever-bearing or day-neutral plants means it's hard to harvest enough for a dessert or batch of jam without devoting significant garden space to strawberries. I wish I didn't have a deer problem in my rural town and could plant my entire front yard in strawberries, as did my friend who lives in Forest Grove.
In full summer, the red-rimmed leaves are a gorgeous groundcover and so prolific that my friend ruthlessly hacks off runners making a break for the sidewalk. Those unwanted offspring found their way home with me and into a large whisky-barrel planter. One of my first spring-cleaning tasks in the garden was to rein in the runners, returning them to the barrel, which hopefully will fill in with thicker growth.
It's rare that a ripe strawberry made it into the house last summer from the garden, but if it does, I'm planning on deviating from the typical shortcake and using strawberries as my excuse to indulge in a batch of cream puffs.
Unlike shortcake, which always seems to warrant massive mounds of whipped cream, cream puffs or profiteroles are moist and rich all on their own. The French term "pate a choux" may sound intimidating, but this haphazard baker can attest to this pastry's relative simplicity.
Best of all, even filled with whipped cream, each puff has only 116 calories. Just try to have the willpower I lack against eating a full dozen.