What is your first thought when you hear the word SPRING: is it sunshine, flowers, or maybe asparagus? For me, spring is strawberries. As soon as I see one of them, there is no stopping and I will instantly switch to spring mode. I will grab my sunglasses, head to our sunny porch and browse my recipe collection for my beloved strawberry cake. It is and will ever be my favorite, just because it’s simple and amazingly flavorful at the same time! The spring-like flavors will taste even better when you use home-grown or self-picked strawberries. Anyway, my very own fruits are still quite small, so I had no chance but to go on a small journey and visited Rutherford Farm in Maryville.
What can I tell you: I had SO MUCH fun. Everyone was incredibly nice, the panoramic view of the Smoky Mountains left nothing to be desired and, no joke, it smelled like strawberry jam everywhere. I hopped through the aisles like a maniac with a red basket and tasted (yes, that was allowed!), picked and smiled like a Cheshire cat.
And simply because I had such an amazing time out there, I thought I would dedicate this week’s TOW to my little red friends and tell you a bit about strawberries. So here we go:
The Latin name of the strawberry is fragaria (think about the word fragrance!) and, from the botanical point of view, it is a nut and thus bears the name berry wrongfully. The red part we love to eat is a pseudo-fruit of the so-called accessory fruit. The actual fruits are the small green dots which sit on the surface and most likely get stuck in your teeth. In addition, strawberries are a species of a subfamily of the rose family. If you are confused now, just remember that strawberries are nuts and somehow related to roses. That should do it in order to pass the 100 $ question in “Who wants to be a Millionaire”.
There are about 20 different types of strawberries, which differ in characteristics such as size, color, crop and cultivation. The best known is the garden strawberry, which is available for domestic cultivation in any hardware store. For all the other varieties, it’s best to visit your garden center of trust. They can explain more about Donna, Pandora, Elan, and Co. If growing your own is too cumbersome, go pick your own strawberries (my recommendation), alternatively buy them on the farmers market or directly from a local producer. They’ll help you understand more about types and preparation. As an add-on, they usually allow you to try before you buy, too.
In the South, the strawberry season starts in April and will end in June. During this time, our favorite fake berries taste fruity, are cheap and available locally. It is easy to buy the best and ripest strawberries. Just watch out for the following three features: 1. start with the stems, they should be firm and fresh, 2. look for a shiny skin, and 3. smell your gems, they should have a delightful scent. Is all of that fulfilled you’ve found fresh and delicious strawberries (if they don’t have any kind of smell, you can leave them where there are, they will taste accordingly). Store your perfect strawberries in the fridge until you eat them. Please, only wash them gently in WHOLE (otherwise they’ll soak up the water) in a basin of cold water. Our beloved fake berries are hyper sensitive.
Now, let’s have a look into what we can do with the strawberries. Their pleasant sweetness makes them perfect to use for desserts, for cakes, but also for savory dishes. Pair the berries with grilled green asparagus, goat cheese and arugula or have them on a bread next to crème fraîche finished with some balsamic reduction. Of course, there are many other combinations we can enjoy during the strawberry season. My favorite will remain forever and ever the classic strawberry sponge cake. I even dedicated a part of a post called “Springtime” to it a couple of weeks ago. It tastes awesomely fruity, awakes so many childhood memories and, think of me as crazy or not, just goes perfectly with my hair color.