Kitchen Call: Strawberries, in the wink of late spring
Late June in New England. Spring is just a wink in time. Still this far into the season, we eat strawberries shipped from somewhere else. They seduce us from the produce section, looking like piles of rubies in green jewel boxes. Home, cellophane ripped off, the tasting can be satisfying or disappointing. Sometimes we get beauties with dry, white interiors. Other times, the ones at the top of the carton seems OK, while the next layer is bruised and mushy.
When the seasons and trucking routes collide perfectly, we get almost perfect berries. Almost.
Because nothing on earth compares to a local berry. Plump and sweet, with a burst of scarlet juices. The best ones you pick yourself in the field. A great family adventure. Otherwise, look for a farmstand to find berries fresh-picked that morning, packed in biodegradable green cardboard cartons. Or at the local farmers market, where they are so deliciously sun-warmed that you eat half the quart on the way back to the car.
Once home, decisions. Eat the rest out of hand? Put them in a cereal bowl and pour cream over them? Slice them and fold them into pancake batter? Move the kitchen table as close to the stove as possible to grab them as they come off the griddle or bring plates to the back porch for Sunday breakfast? I don’t make my own batter. I use a gluten-free boxed mix that turns out light, fluffy pancakes. I cover the table, wherever it is, with a checkered cloth and put a pitcher of flowers or a pot of herbs in the center. And let everyone pick up napkins and flatware from a basket in the kitchen.
Local strawberries are also key to summer’s glorious strawberry shortcakes. Today’s cooks like authentic, country-style biscuits. Look for them in the supermarket bakery section. They go quickly. Best are homemade. They only take 12 to 15 minutes in the oven. Even if, like me, you don’t consider yourself a baker, they always turn out applause-worthy. I cut up the strawberries and whip the cream while they bake. When the biscuits are cool enough to handle, I split and stack them with lots and lots of strawberries and a cloud of whipped cream. The warmth of the biscuits melts the cream. Ah, strawberries and cream.
Add a sprig of mint on top of either pancakes or shortcakes.
As a non-baker, I remind myself before starting either of these recipes to mix together the dry ingredients first, either in a bowl or a processor, and add the wet to the dry.
HOMEMADE BAKING POWDER BISCUITS
Makes 12 to 15
One of the keys to turning nice, light biscuits is shaking the container of flour (make sure it is tightly covered) before measuring it out. I do the same with the baking powder. Both tend to pack down when sitting on the shelf and the shaking gives a more accurate measure.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces
3/4 cup whole milk
1. Preheat the oven to 450F.
2. Blend together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in the food processor or whisk in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the bits of butter and pulse until the mixture resembles peas. Turn on the motor. Gradually, add the milk through the feed tube, until the dough starts to stick together.
3. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Gather into a ball. Knead lightly, 4 or 5 times. When the dough is smooth, pat it out to a thickness of about 1/2 inch all over. Cut with a 2-inch round cutter. Roll extra dough into a ball, then pat out and cut more circles. Transfer all to an ungreased baking sheet, spaced at about 1/2 inch. Use 2 baking sheets if needed.
4. Transfer the baking sheets into the preheated oven. Turn the heat down to 400F. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. The biscuits will rise and be lightly golden on top.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Serve with a dollop of whipped butter and real maple syrup (not pancake syrup).
1-1/4 cups whole milk, plus extra, if needed
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pint strawberries, sliced
1. In a large bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together — flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients — milk, eggs and melted butter. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir, until the flour is barely moist.
2.Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat. Lightly oil the surface. Test a tablespoon of batter to see if it spreads. If it does not, stir in a bit more milk to the mixture.
3. Ladle the batter, about 1/4 cup at a time, onto the griddle. Sprinkle sliced strawberries over the top of each one. Cook until the tops begin to bubble, about 2 minutes. Turn with a large spatula so they do not break. Cook 1 minute longer. Lift up a portion of the pancake with the spatula to check that the flip side is browned before transferring to a platter. Keep finished pancakes in a 200F oven until the whole batch is ready.
— Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@gmail.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.