Strawberry Season 2011

When I think of strawberry season, my mind usually goes in several directions at once — so many different twists and turns of memory lane. Of course, the strawberry seasons I’ve lived and loved since moving here to the Midwest in 2005 are very near and dear to me. But, strawberries and I go back quite a bit further than that.

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I think my earliest memories of strawberry season go all the way back to elementary school. Mom would do temporary work at the strawberry farm just down the road from us in South Louisiana. It was a pretty sizable farm — with no telling how many acres of the biggest, juiciest strawberries you could ever find. Mom would wake us just before dawn on a March or April morning, load us into the Bronco II, and drive a little less than a mile down the road to the farm. She’d tell us we could stay inside the vehicle and sleep until we were ready to get up. Meanwhile, she’d make her way over to the giant packing shed and begin helping the other workers load strawberries into 12-pint flats.

Anyway, I guess that’s my first memory of strawberry season — as far back as I’m able to remember. I should tell you that I was not a willing participant in strawberry season, IMG_0653at that time. I remember those early mornings in April when, yes, it was already beginning to feel summer-like in South Louisiana; the air heavy and damp, fragrant with the smell of pine trees, mud, and strawberries.

At that time, strawberry season meant sacrificing a perfectly good weekend off from school by being held captive. Strawberry season meant falling asleep in the back of the Bronco II with my older brother and being awakened by the sun peeking through the lower branches of tall pine trees and streaming across my eyes. In spite of my perceived predicament, I do remember lying there, staring up at the morning sun filtered through pine needles and — even though I dreaded heat and humidity — I remember loving that sight; almost like sun shining through delicate, emerald stained glass.

Of course, with the sun rapidly rising, it was no time at all before the temperature in our little capsule became unbearable (and you certainly wouldn’t be foolish enough to have the windows down, the mosquitoes would eat you alive). Once we were awake, my brothers and I were usually assigned to go to a different area of the farm where we would work placing the little pint baskets into the flat boxes that everyone else was so carefully packing strawberries into.

I like to think, at least in hindsight, that this might be where I developed my love of mindless, tedious IMG_0655work. The places your mind can wander while your eyes and your hands are busy doing something that allows your brain to go on vacation. Of course, at that age, I’m sure my mind was most often headed toward the next prominent event of the day: lunch! Some things never change.

By and by — either having met some pint-placing quota or by mischievously sneaking away en masse — my brothers and I, along with the other children, would find ourselves off in some distant corner of the farm. I have the distinct memory of running full speed down muddy rows of strawberry plants… the sound of mud giving way under my wide, awkward feet clomping along, chasing hopelessly after my older brother (or perhaps I was being chased) and the smell of a strawberry farm — the blossoms, leaves, berries, rotten berries — all of it blending together into a memory that is etched so firmly in my mind that I can still sense it to this day.

I suppose that’s why I’m glad James doesn’t think it crazy that I want to load up into the car early on a weekend morning in late June and head out to the country to immerse myself once again in that smell. While you’re not likely to find me running in a strawberry field, these days (unless I’m being chased by a bee, perhaps), I’m no less joyful to be there again, nestled among the plants, grabbing strawberries and gingerly placing them into pints.

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True to form, this year, we made out a plan in advance of picking so that we could pick the right amount of berries. Perhaps the only thing worse than not picking enough strawberries is picking entirely too many! We picked 16 pounds of a variety we’ve never tried before: ovation. I loved their name. Naturally, they’re a late-season berry, and we feel they’re worthy of an ovation! Though they’re not very big in size, their taste is absolutely huge.

Right away, we had to divvy up the berry loot and decide what was being turned into jam, what was being frozen, and what was being turned into the once-a-year, fresh strawberry desserts (yes, I mean plural!). Best of all, I think we may’ve finally discovered by trial and error a keeper recipe for strawberry jam. It’s been a long time coming!

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As it is, strawberries have a very pronounced and yet delicate, almost fleeting flavor that is easily cooked out or crowded out. The recipes we’ve found for jam often came up disappointing in the taste and/or texture department in the end. Making it even more challenging for us, I carry over my reduced sugar philosophy from cooking and baking to the jam pot. Cooking with reduced sugar means using quirky methods and unconventional proportions — especially since the common, Sure-Jell thickened jams and preserves require head-spinning amounts of sugar in order to activate the pectin (typically more cups of sugar than cups of fruit!). Discovering Pomona’s Universal Pectin was the beginning of a jamming revolution in our household.

By using Pomona’s, we’re able to use honey, fruit juice concentrate, or even no sweetener at all without affecting the thickness of the jam. With each passing season, we’re getting better and better at eliminating as much sweetener as possible from the recipes; leaving only the genuine fruit taste behind. But, I’ll not share my jam recipes just yet. I’ve gotta keep some things a mystery, don’t I?

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While frozen strawberries are excellent in a lot of recipes (this recipe from Strawberry Season 2010 is great with frozen or fresh strawberries), there are a few recipes that require fresh strawberries without exception. Among them is the Diner-Style Strawberry Pie recipe we discovered, last year, from Cook’s County. It actually uses two pounds of frozen berries and one pound of sliced, fresh berries. Three pounds of strawberries in one pie! What we like best about this recipe is not only what’s in it, but what’s not in it: no food coloring, no strawberry jell-o, no watery-tasting cornstarch mixture, etc.

IMG_3803Maybe I’ll share this recipe with all of you, next strawberry season. For now, though, I’ve got two other strawberry recipes in queue to share in upcoming entries that I think are a great way to celebrate strawberry season and all of the memories (old ones and new ones) attached to this little berry. Stay tuned for more strawberry goodies!

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~ by Jason on June 28, 2011.

8 Responses to “Strawberry Season 2011”

  1. Looks delicious guys. Last night for Jessie’s birthday, my friend Brian (who is a chef) made a dessert with brie, fresh strawberries and grapes. He sliced wheels of brie and put layers and grapes and strawberries between the layers of cheese. We drizzled honey on top and ate it with graham crackers, fresh blueberries and blackberries. I’m having some right now, in fact!

    Happy picking!

  2. Jason this pie recipe looks so good….really wished you had changed your mind on sharing it with us. The filling is exactly the kind I am looking for….perfect!!!! Hope you and James are enjoying your summer and your garden full of goodies.Keep up the good work.

  3. My mouth watered as I looked at the berries and then that pie… omg! Yummy!
    I hope you make me one of those when I come up to visit.
    I didn’t get berries the last 2 years here. Maw Maw had shortcake but I couldn’t hardly taste the berries for the sugar.
    Memories of the strawberry shed… LOL!
    Lots of good ones for me…
    Love ya MOM

    • You would’ve liked the pie, but I’ll bet you would’ve wanted it to be a graham cracker crust. I don’t know where you ever got the idea to put those two together (strawberries and graham crackers) but I think I might try that the next time I make this pie.

      Love you too!

  4. I can’t believe you teased me with this pie recipe! I’d have pried it out of you somehow if baby Rex happened to be the size of a strawberry this week 😉 I’ll check out the others!
    I fondly remember those deep south strawberry seasons too! The stinky, overcrowded strawberry festival was one of my favorite events of the year!

    • Sorry for the tease! 😛 I will share that recipe next year, for sure! This was only the second time we’d made it, though, I so I wanted to be 100% sure it was “bloggable”.

      We seldom went to the Strawberry Festival, as I recall. I do remember having my first REAL strawberry slushie there, though. I’ve never had one like that since.

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