I prefer raspberries, but there’s something exciting about strawberries. Perhaps because here in the north it is the first fruit of the season. Perhaps because there is nothing like strawberry ice cream. Perhaps because it signals summer has truly arrived and raspberries are just around the corner. Perhaps because, like flower bouquets, no one ever complains about the price of strawberries. What ever the case every year I get little-kid excited when strawberries come into season. And after a cool if not downright cold spring in Wisconsin the strawberries have finally arrived. Although I’ve been harvesting about two quarts a week from my community garden plot and sampling strawberries from Harmony Valley Farm at the Dane County Farmers’ Market, where I work once a week, local pick your owns and most farmers’ market vendors have gotten off to a very late start.
On Sunday June 26, about two weeks later than usual, two friends and I drove JenEhr Family Farm in Sun Prairie, which runs the only organic strawberry pick-your-own in southern Wisconsin. In 2011 Strawberries were #3 on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of most contaminated fruits and vegetables. The EWG Shopper’s Guide is published to help consumers who are concerned about pesticide exposure choose which fruits and vegetables to purchase organically. The Environmental Working Group also publishes a Clean 15 list. Children especially are at high risk to pesticide exposure when consuming fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list. On Sunday JenEhr Family Farm was packed with families with children under the age of seven.
Our instructions included the command “to eat as much as possible while you pick”. Our initial assigned a row yielded less than a quart each and we wondered if we should have gotten an earlier start. However the day was absolutely gorgeous, not too hot, sunny and breezy and we chatted with other pickers and a family we knew from Madison while we waited to be assigned new rows. The new rows were fabulous and we bent or squatted and picked. I, of course, despite being the most experienced squatter, nevertheless ended up with strawberry strains on my knees.
Now the madness begins. What to do with all the strawberries?
I used to make strawberry jam, strawberry bread or muffins, strawberry shortcake, dried strawberries and strawberry fruit leather when I lived in New Hampshire. These days I keep things simple. Eat as much fresh as possible and freeze as much as can fit in my Euro-sized fridge. Last week I made homemade vanilla ice cream and served it with strawberries to my neighbors across the street.
This week I invited friends over for strawberry batidas, an alcoholic drink made with cachaça, in an attempt to use as many very ripe strawberries as quickly as possible. Out of necessity this summer I’ve begun a return to a barter-based economy and I’m hoping my neighbor across the street will fix my bike in exchange for a strawberry-rhubarb pie.
While preparing to write this blog post I learned that strawberries are botanically not considered berries. They are actually an accessory fruit or false fruit. Figs and mulberries also fall into this category.
Wikipedia helped me to sort this technicality out by stating “…that the fleshy part is derived not from the plant’s ovaries but from the “receptacle” that holds the ovaries. Each apparent ‘seed’ (achene) on the outside of the fruit is actually one of the ovaries of the flower, with a seed inside it. In both culinary and botanical terms, the entire structure is called a ‘fruit’”.
I checked my dirt-stained copy of Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening and they do not mention it. Since that book, trial and error and interning on an organic farm were my main sources of information about strawberries I guess that’s how I only came to learn of it from the internet. My botanical education continues. Or maybe I knew this instinctively all along and perhaps this is the reason strawberries are so exciting- they aren’t really berries.
Wisco-Brazilian Strawberry Batida (bah-chee-da)
Makes two large servings
1 pint very ripe (i.e. need to be used now) strawberries, stems removed
Place the strawberries in a blender with a couple of tablespoons of water and blend until smooth. If the mixture is too thick for your taste add more water. For a true Wisco-Brazilian Batida for each drink place 2 ounces cachaça, 4-5 ounces strawberry puree, 2 tablespoons of sugar in a glass pint jar 2/3 full of crushed ice. Cover and shake to blend. If desired add more crushed ice. Drink directly from the pint jar on your front or back porch with friends. Talk until sunset.