By Susan Olcott
I could eat strawberries until my lips started to sting from all the citrus, they are so delicious and so fleeting. There are only really a couple of weeks when local strawberries are at their peak. I always thought there were just Maine strawberries, period. But, lately on a picking trip to Milkweed Farm in Brunswick, where they are having pickers for the first time this year, I learned the delightful names of many varieties that sparkled in the sunlight like little gems on a hot day in early July. Lucretia Woodruff, who owns the farm with her husband, Mike, recently taught a workshop on gathering and using herbs for their medicinal properties. I wrote about this in my last blog and it led me to follow up with her only to find that I could now come pick strawberries at her farm – what a treat! By July 2nd, Lucretia told me that the Earliglow and Honeyoyes had past, as had the early glows, but we were enchanted by the Sparkle and Jewel varieties. In no time with three pickers, we picked 8 pounds of strawberries. Intending to make jam with them, I bought a dozen jars, but a slew of summer guests decimated that supply in less than a week. In need of a resupply, we returned the following week to find that peak picking had already passed, but with a little bit of careful hunting, we were still about to fill up four quarts (and likely eat another one along the way. Lucretia and Mike have grown strawberries for several years, experimenting with growing them organically, which has its challenges. Keeping weeds down and bugs away aren’t simple without spraying the plants. But, they have had success using straw and have tried using clover as well. This was the first year they decided to give a go at opening things up to pickers and it has been a success. In fact, they’ve even sold some at the Saturday Farmer’s Market at the Buckwheat Farm stand.
I did mention that we ate 8 pounds of strawberries in six days, which means we came up with some creative uses. Here are a few recipes – one complex and two simple. The first one is a Strawberry Pazzo Cake, which translates to “Crazy” cake from the Italian. The others are cool summer recipes that are fun with kids or with friends. The next one I cheat a bit and use frozen lemonade because smashing strawberries and squeezing lemons is a little much. And the last one is super simple too, but so delicious. You can also turn either of these last two into popsicles.
Strawberry Pazzo Cake (from Epicurious)
Ingredients (Serves 8)
Herbed Crème Fraîche
1 ¾ c Crème Fraîche (or sour cream or Greek yogurt)
1 T fresh herbs (basil, rosemary or mint)
6 T butter (room temperature)
1 ½ c flour
1 ½ t baking powder
½ t sea salt
½ c sugar
¼ c dark brown sugar
½ c whole milk
1 t vanilla
1 lb fresh strawberries, halved
4 T balsamic vinegar
1 T plus 1 t sugar
1 pinch black pepper
Powdered sugar for dusting
- Stir together the crème fraîche and herbs. Refrigerate and let sit for 30 minutes or overnight.
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Use a mixer to cream butter and sugars on medium speed until the mixture looks creamy, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the egg, milk, and vanilla and mix just until combined.
- Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until smooth with a creamy texture.
- Pour the batter into the buttered cast-iron skillet. Arrange the strawberry halves, cut-side down, on top of the cake batter. Don’t overlap the berries; use just enough strawberries for one layer and set aside the rest to use as garnish.
- Bake for 10 minutes and then decrease the heat to 325°F and bake for an additional 45 to 50 minutes. The cake is done when a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake is golden brown on top.
- While the cake is baking, in a small pan combine the balsamic vinegar, sugar, and black pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat and remove from the heat right away. Set it aside until the cake has baked. It should be the consistency of maple syrup; if it thickens too much before the cake comes out of the oven, stir in a few more spoonfuls of vinegar. As soon as the cake comes off the heat, drizzle the top with about three-fourths of the balsamic glaze.
- When the cake has cooled, cut it into wedges. Garnish by dusting with confectioners’ sugar. Top the cake with a spoonful of Herbed Crème Fraîche.
Ingredients (Serves 8)
1 pint fresh strawberries cut in half
1 can frozen lemonade
Mint for garnish
- Smash strawberries with a fork until juices come out.
- Mix lemonade with water according to directions.
- Put all in a large pitcher and stir well.
- Serve over ice with a mint sprig.
Ingredients (Serves 6)
2 quarts fresh strawberries cut in half
1 lemon juiced
½ c sugar (if desired)
½ t kosher salt
- Put all ingredients into a blender or food processor.
- Put in an airtight container or wrap surface with plastic wrap.
- Chill for 2-3 hours.