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Strawberry smell confirms season

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Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune Locally grown strawberries are in season at farmstands, farmers markets and home gardens.
Strawberry Flambee Over Lemon Ricotta-Filled Crepes. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
Strawberry Vinaigrette. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
Strawberry Goat Cheese Bruschetta. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
Strawberry Agua Fresca. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
Healthy Strawberry Oatmeal Bars. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
Strawberry Daiquiri. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune Locally grown strawberries are in season at farmstands, farmers markets and home gardens.
Locally grown berries available at farmstands, farmers markets

Traditionally associated with springtime, strawberry season captures the imagination in April, and our anticipation mounts through May.

But the season doesn’t correspond with a date on the calendar or — heaven forbid — the first sour, pale-shouldered specimens to arrive in supermarkets. I recognize strawberry season by its smell: sun-warmed, sugar-laden fruit with an undertone of fertile earth.

The aroma of strawberries takes me straight back to a commuter’s bus in France’s Loire Valley, where I first realized that real strawberries actually have a scent. A woman boarded the bus that early-June day carrying a cardboard flat of ruby berries whose heady, drool-inducing perfume wafted over the passengers and permeated the entire vehicle. Who knew?

Apart from the elusive wild strawberries hidden in the dunes of Oregon’s south coast (which seem like an entirely different fruit), I was acquainted primarily with varieties picked still a bit green under their leaves and shipped off to sterile supermarkets. No smell there — unless they had started to mold.

More than two decades since my foreign exchange student days, and that brush with French strawberries, I can still summon that scent to my nostrils, a memory I use to gauge whether grocery store berries are worth purchasing. My sons, easily wooed by bright hues after months of paler tree fruit, have learned we won’t settle for odorless berries, dry with hollow cores. We bide our time and reap a sweet reward. Our yard’s own small planting of strawberries is their training grounds for recognizing peak ripeness.

Purchasing locally grown strawberries, of course, eliminates much of the discerning shopper’s guesswork. Perennially popular, a farmstand near the corner of Rossanley Drive and Hanley Road has trafficked in fresh, juicy, just-harvested berries for decades. Operated by extended family of Kao Saefong, the stand typically opens at 7 a.m. and closes when the berries are gone. They should last into July, staff said.

Just down the road at Medford’s Fry Family Farm Store, fresh organic strawberries are a seasonal delight. Fry is among farmers market vendors, which also include Wandering Roots in Gold Hill and Antonio’s Farm in Talent, who sell fresh strawberries. Priced at about $4 per pint, the berries are the prize for early birds at Medford’s Thursday Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market in Hawthorne Park.

Give strawberries an even brighter shine in these recipes from Tribune News Service. Strawberry Flambée Over Lemon Ricotta-Filled Crêpes is the kind of dessert that will give you a lifelong reputation as an exceptional cook. And all you have to do is master three simple parts.

First, you make the crepes, which are just a thin batter (flour, milk, eggs, melted butter) cooked briefly on a hot pan. Next, you stir together a filling for the crepes (ricotta cheese, sugar, vanilla and the zest of a lemon and an orange).

Finally, you make a sauce by heating together strawberries, sugar, orange juice, butter and Grand Marnier. When the alcohol is hot, light a match to it and watch the flames dance in delight.

For fast and easy, but fabulous flavor, use strawberries in drinks. Hardly anything on earth is more refreshing.

Strawberry agua fresca is just a sweetened strawberry-flavored water, and it is delightful. It doesn’t take long to make, but you do have to let it sit for a few hours. It’s the sort of drink that will make you want to mow the grass in the hot sun just so you can come inside and drink a tall glass of it.

If an adult beverage is more your style, nothing is more summery than a frozen strawberry daiquiri. You just need rum, of course, and strawberries, plus an extra-sweet simple syrup (it takes perhaps two minutes to make) and a significant splash of lime juice to bring just the right slap of tart citrus to the sweet drink.

Add a handful of ice cubes, throw it all in the blender and you will have a lightly boozy slushie to remember.

For slightly overripe strawberries, make a salad dressing that tastes fresh and pure. Best of all, it comes together in a matter of minutes.

It’s no secret how well strawberries pair with balsamic vinegar, especially with creamy goat cheese and deliciously crisp, charred bread. The secret to Strawberry Goat Cheese Bruschetta is that the balsamic vinegar is cooked until it is reduced by about half until syrupy and intense in flavor.

The reduced vinegar is mixed with diced strawberries and spooned on top of tangy goat cheese, which has been spread on thin slices of grilled or broiled French or Italian bread. Use an outdoor grill or grill pan on the stovetop. A light sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves is all the bruschetta needs to tie the flavors together.

Reach features editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4494 or slemon@rosebudmedia.com. Tribune News Service contributed to this story.

STRAWBERRY FLAMBÉE OVER LEMON RICOTTA-FILLED CREPES

Yield: 6 servings

For the crepes

1 1/2 cups milk

3 eggs

1 pinch salt

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Cooking spray (or a little additional butter)

For the filling

2 cups ricotta cheese

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Grated zest of 1 orange

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup granulated sugar

For the sauce

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 cups strawberries, hulled

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup Grand Marnier

2 tablespoons butter

Note: This recipe makes 18 crepes in a 6-inch skillet. Using a 10-inch skillet will result in about 6 or 7 crepes. The process is the same, but use about 1/3 cup of batter for each crepe, and fill each one with 1/3 cup of filling.

For the crepes: Put the milk and eggs into a blender and blend them thoroughly for just a few seconds. With the blender running at low speed, add the salt, melted butter and flour, in that order, through the feed hole in the blender lid. Blend until smooth. Refrigerate, covered, at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

Heat a 6-inch nonstick skillet over low heat. Spray it with the cooking spray or grease with just a little butter. Pour a couple of tablespoons of batter in the center of the skillet and swirl the skillet around to make 1 thin, even layer of batter. The goal is not to brown the crepe but to cook it just enough to flip.

Once the crepe gets lacy around the edges and pulls away from the skillet, about 2 minutes, use a spatula to flip the crepe over. Cook the second side for only about 30 seconds, or not at all. Transfer the crepe to a large plate and repeat with the remaining batter. Once the crepes are cooked, they can be stacked and wrapped in plastic wrap for future use.

For the filling: Put the ricotta, citrus zests, vanilla and sugar into a medium mixing bowl and stir until smooth. The filling may be covered in plastic and refrigerated up to one day before serving.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Lay a crepe out on a clean surface, cooked-side down. Put 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center and smooth it out with the back of a spoon. Fold the crepe in half and then half again into a quarter. Repeat the filling and folding process with the remaining crepes and filling. Set the folded crepes on a cookie sheet and keep warm in the oven.

For the sauce: Heat a large sauté pan over high heat until warm. Add the sugar and strawberries and cook until the sugar starts to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Add the orange juice and Grand Marnier. Using a long-handled lighter, very carefully ignite the alcohol in the pan (stand back, as the flames may shoot up). Once the flames die out, stir in the butter.

To serve, arrange 3 crepes on each of 6 dessert plates and spoon some strawberry sauce over the crepes.

Recipe from “My New Orleans: The Cookbook” by John Besh

STRAWBERRY DAIQUIRI

Yield: 1 serving

1 1/2 ounces rum

1 ounce rich simple syrup, see note

3/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) lime juice, freshly squeezed

4 to 5 large strawberries

Note: To make rich simple syrup, combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until mixture turns clear. Cool to room temperature before using. Store in a clean jar in the refrigerator.

Add the rum, simple syrup, lime juice, strawberries and 5 or 6 ice cubes to a blender and blend until smooth. Serve in a margarita glass or wine goblet.

Recipe from liquor.com

STRAWBERRY VINAIGRETTE

Yield: 8 servings

1 cup strawberries, stemmed and chopped

2 tablespoons honey

5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine the chopped strawberries, honey, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in a food processor or blender and puree until very smooth, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Recipe from Southern Living

STRAWBERRY AGUA FRESCA

Yield: 10 servings

4 cups strawberries, sliced

1 cup granulated sugar

8 cups cold water, divided

1 lime, cut into 10 rounds for garnish, optional

10 mint sprigs for garnish, optional

In a medium bowl, mix together sliced strawberries, sugar and 1 cup of the water. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.

Pour strawberry mixture into a blender. Blend on high until smooth. Pour this mixture through a strainer set over a large mixing bowl. Discard the pulp and seeds.

Add the remaining 7 cups cold water to the pureed strawberries, and mix well. Serve immediately over ice or refrigerate for several hours to chill. Garnish with lime rounds or mint leaves.

Recipe from allrecipes.com

HEALTHY STRAWBERRY OATMEAL BARS

Yield: 16 servings

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

3/4 cup whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 cups small-diced strawberries, divided

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided

For the optional vanilla glaze

1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon milk (any kind)

Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with parchment paper so that the paper overhangs two sides like handles.

In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, ginger and salt. Pour in the melted butter and stir until it forms clumps and the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Set aside 1/2 cup of the crumble mixture, then press the rest into an even layer in the bottom of the prepared pan.

Scatter half of the strawberries over the crust. Sprinkle the cornstarch evenly over the top, then sprinkle on the lemon juice and 1/2 tablespoon of the granulated sugar. Scatter on the remaining berries, then the remaining 1/2 tablespoon sugar. Sprinkle the reserved crumbs evenly over the top; you will have some fruit showing through.

Bake the bars for 35 to 40 minutes, until the fruit is bubbly and the crumb topping smells toasty and looks golden. Place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely.

When the bars are cool, prepare the glaze: In a medium bowl, briskly whisk together the powdered sugar, vanilla and milk until smooth. Add more milk if you want a thinner consistency. Using the parchment-paper handles, lift the bars from the pan. Drizzle with glaze, slice and serve.

Recipe from wellplated.com

STRAWBERRY GOAT CHEESE BRUSCHETTA

Yield: 6 servings

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

12 slices Italian or French bread

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound strawberries, washed and diced

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, plus more for serving

1 cup goat cheese, room temperature

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat vinegar in a small skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat. Simmer until reduced by about half, 8 to 10 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Prepare a grill, grill pan or broiler for high heat. Brush bread slices with oil and set aside. Combine strawberries and thyme in a small bowl and set aside.

Grill or broil bread until browned, about 3 minutes per side (about 1 minute per side if broiled).

Spread goat cheese on toasted bread. Add salt, pepper and reduced vinegar to the strawberry mixture. Spoon over the goat cheese-topped bruschetta. Garnish with additional thyme.

Recipe from allrecipes.com