Sunday, July 5, 2009

Oregon strawberry season

6/24/09 Cook’s Corner
Strawberry season is short but delicious
Betty Kaiser

Along about this time of year, I start craving fresh fruit. Real fruit. Fruit that is grown and picked locally. I anxiously look forward to the day when the first strawberries arrive at Farmer’s Markets and local fruit stands. We grow them in our garden but it takes them a little longer to get going at our elevation. Right now they’re teeny and sour.

In case you’re new to the area, here’s the fruit arrival pattern in the Willamette Valley: Weather permitting, we start off with strawberries in late May or early June and move into peaches and cherries in July. Nectarines, raspberries and blueberries arrive in August. Fall, of course brings apples, pears, walnuts and filberts before winter puts an end to our bounty.

Oregon strawberries come and go quickly. They are best! Deep red and intensely sweet, they don’t last long. Just about the time I decide to ‘put up’ a flat or two, they’re gone! So watch the ads in the newspapers carefully. They’re here today and gone tomorrow.

Lots of folks are canning for the first time this year. May I suggest that you start with the easiest jam on earth — strawberry freezer jam. You will find dozens of ways to use it all year long. It’s great on breakfast toast, pancakes, waffles, stirred into yogurt and poured over ice cream. Just buy a package of powdered pectin, follow the directions and put up your own homemade jam. Yummy stuff.

Freezing whole strawberries is an art that I’ve never quite mastered. The easiest way is to wash and pat them dry. Remove stems and leaves or soft spots. Place them on a baking sheet in the refrigerator for about an hour. Then transfer the sheet to the freezer until berries are frozen. Remove and seal in an airtight container. Warning: the berries may not retain their shape and texture; just their flavor!

Now is also the time to get your fill of strawberry smoothies. They taste ridiculously rich but can actually be very healthy, depending upon the amount of sugar used. Each serving includes a serving of fruit and dairy for the day. Frozen strawberries actually make the best smoothies. The icy texture seems to intensify the berry flavor. Frozen yogurt or plain old ice cubes can add the same pizzazz to a fresh berry smoothie.

Strawberries are also delicious in a green dinner salad that is elegant enough for guests. I stumbled across this combination years ago when I was desperate for something different to take to a potluck. I must say that it’s very popular and every single bite disappears. I have even been known to cheat and use “Newman’s Own Lighten Up Cranberry Walnut dressing.” It’s really tasty stuff. Later this summer I’ll share Newman’s sensational chicken salad recipe.

Finally, we’re closing off our recipe session with an unusual strawberry bread pudding. It’s “A Laura Ashley Tea” recipe so you know it’s good — if you like bread pudding. If not, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Just be sure and serve it warm with a generous dollop of whipped cream. Homemade, of course. Enjoy!

Strawberry-Yogurt Smoothie

2 cups frozen unsweetened strawberries
1/2 cup cranberry raspberry juice
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt

Place the strawberries in the blender. Add the juices and top with the yogurt. Puree until smooth. Pour into two glasses and garnish each with a fresh strawberry. Serve immediately.

Strawberry Dinner Salad

1 bunch romaine lettuce
1/2-cup green onions, sliced
1-2 cups strawberries, sliced
1 can water chestnuts, sliced
1 cup candied almonds of pecans (recipe follows)

Prepare candied almonds or pecans:
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup almonds or pecans

Place sugar in nonstick skillet and melt over medium heat, stirring often. Remove from heat and add nuts. Stir until coated. Remove and separate on wax paper. Leave until cool.

Prepare dressing:
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar (or other fruit flavored vinegars)
1/4 cup sugar (more or less)
Dash of dill weed

Mix all ingredients together. Taste to adjust flavors and chill.
Note: Nut flavored vinegars are also excellent. Specialty stores will carry them in a variety of flavors.

To serve salad:
Wash and chill lettuce several hours before serving. To serve, slice lettuce crosswise into bite size pieces. Sprinkle with green onions, water chestnuts and nuts. Shake dressing well and add to salad just before serving. Reserve a few strawberries for garnish. Serves 6-8.

Strawberry Pudding
“A Laura Ashley Tea”

1 stick butter
1 cup sugar, divided
4 eggs
1-3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 pints strawberries, cleaned and hulled
1 pound bread scraps (i.e. 2-3 days old bread)
Whipped Cream

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Cream together butter and half the sugar. In separate bowl, beat eggs with remaining 1/2 cup sugar and add butter mixture. Sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Add to mixture, and then stir in milk and vanilla. Fold in strawberries and bread scraps. Pour into a greased 9x5-inch loaf pan (or a round white casserole). Bake for 30 min.

Serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar over top of each serving. Serves 6.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal!
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

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