First Published in Franklin Journal
I remember with fondness, picking strawberries with mom, out behind the Cannery in Farmington, Maine. As a little girl, everything seemed ginormous. Those fields bordering the Sandy River were no exception. They seemed endless and so did the walk from the car to our assigned picking spot. There were caretakers in the fields who had small flags on long “picks”. They would give us one and instruct us to take the flag and move it with us to mark our ending spot. Ever competitive, I set out to pick the most! I would commence picking, as I bent over, scooched down or just plain sat in one spot, depending on the volume of berries available. I know I joined in with the calls of other pickers. “Look at this one!” “I just found the biggest” and “this one has several grown together”. We prized the large and imperfect. Clothes and hands would become sticky and stained with red juice. To be honest, what I liked most about picking is that it was generally pretty fast to fill your flats or other containers and be on with your day. I’m still like that. Picking berries isn’t my favorite task, but like many of us, I love eating and pass the picking time by seeing how fast I can pick, while dreaming of their deliciousness. And yes, I still look for the largest and most imperfect.
I wish I had only wonderful things to write about strawberries, but the truth is the complete story isn’t all pretty. California strawberries, for instance, are grown with a particularly, high use of synthetic pesticides. Sprayed on the plants, it pollutes the air, causing breathing and skin ailments for the workers and field neighbors. I also avoid Driscoll, the world’s largest producer of berries, because of their purported unfair labor practices and allowed abuse of women. I stick mostly with Maine strawberries, as our farmers are generally known to use safe and sustainable growing practices. Of course, I support local buying, where I can ask the farmer about his variety, specifically. I have picked in Maine at various locations. This year I tried “Berry Fruit Farm” in Livermore, Maine and fell in love with the “Darselect”. They were sweet and robust with flavor, and held well in recipes.
Strawberries are versatile and have numerous upsides. For instance, they freeze well for storing, although, they tend to get mushy and lose some flavor. I freeze them individually on a flat tray, pop in the freezer and once frozen, transfer them to freezer-safe containers.
Strawberries make saucy goodness. Most people I know add sugar. I try to pick sweeter varieties of berries and leave off the sugar, although, on the occasion of a dryer, less sweet berry, I will add a sprinkle of sugar or drizzle of honey. I add about ½ teaspoon of lemon juice to about 2 cups of berries to preserve the flavor.
Eat fresh strawberries for optimal flavor and to capitalize on their Vitamin C and polyphenol antioxidants, excellent blood sugar regulators, and source of anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. They lose these benefits, as soon as two days following picking, but you can retard this loss by storing, with stems intact, in your refrigerator storage bin, at about a temperature of 36 – 38F. This will help preserve color, as well. If you can’t eat them that quickly, try slicing them and drying in the oven for 2 hours at 200 degrees, curved side down then flip them and dry for another 2 hrs at 200 degrees. Then store in airtight containers with no metal contact. The sweetness will condense and can be later added to most anything or enjoyed separately, as a snack.
I couldn’t possibly list all of the ways to use strawberries, but you may feel disappointed, if I at least don’t mention strawberry shortcake.
For shortcake, mom would make baking powder biscuits with extra sugar. They seemingly floated to the table. Since she passed, I haven’t had any come close to hers. I did not inherit the biscuit making gene, but rather look forward to the NHL discovering mine, as an alternative to their hockey pucks. I instead make airy cream puffs and fill them with whipped sweet cream, laden with diced strawberries. They are like soft bites of heaven.
When you eat Maine strawberries seasonally, which would be right now, I think you can you can taste the earth and sunshine in every tantalizing bite. Why would you eat any other? http://dianeatwood.com/catchinghealth/where-to-pick-your-own-strawberries-in-maine/ is an excellent resource for finding where to pick in Maine, including some organic choices.