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Strawberries: A love story

Thursday, June 05, 2003

By Ervin Dyer, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Strawberries, around since ancient Rome, have long been the stuff of inspiration. n Oh, there's food. But there are festivals and fun. Music, too.

In the farm spirit of cross-county cooperation, this Northeaster variety of strawberries were grown at Triple "B" Farms in Forward and purchased at Kaelin's Farm Market in Franklin Park. (Jeannette Blosel, Post-Gazette)

Berry Tips:

TIP NO. 1: An easy way to hull strawberries is to thrust a plastic straw from stem to stern, removing the center. Force the piece out of the straw, then it's on to the next berry. (You do lose a bit of berry, though.)

TIP NO. 2: Don't wash and hull strawberries until you're ready to use them. They taste more succulent when served at room temperature. If there are leftovers, place individual berries -- unwashed -- on a cookie sheet and freeze. When frozen, put the berries in an airtight freezer bag; pour out frozen berries as needed.

'Rustic' shortcake takes advantage of baking shortcuts

Rosy memories of strawberries, summer and Grandma Susie

Two local strawberry festivals are ripe for the picking this weekend

Pick-your-own strawberries a bit late this season

Farm Fresh: Glace tart makes good use of fresh strawberries

Farmers' Markets

The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" is legendary.

In 1977, I jammed -- and so did 1 million other people -- to "Strawberry Letter 23," a frothy, but funky, disco love song by the Brothers Johnson.

As the weather heats up, the scarlet fruit will soon be ubiquitous.

Here in Western Pennsylvania, it's strawberry season. The fruit is showing up in farmers' markets and will continue for three weeks. Some farmers and gardeners grow varieties that stretch into early fall.

This year's local crop has been late. Lulled into sleeping longer due to cooler, wetter weather, the berries' growth and development have been slow.

It's a hardy batch that will make it through. Growing conditions -- spring frost, drought and disease -- are not the best for this area, said Lee Miller, a strawberry lover and Beaver County agent with the Penn State Cooperative Extension.

"There have been dry summers for the past two or three years and that can make for a difficult crop," said Miller.

Local farmers are also vexed by competition from growers in the South and from a large, robust crop of growers in nearby Ohio.

There are more than 20 varieties of strawberries, but when local produce makes it to the market, you can expect to see these:

All-Star and Red Chief are large-fruit berries. There will be some Early Glow, which produces a moderate to small fruit but is one of the sweetest varieties. In Western Pennsylvania, it peaks the first part of June.

Its cousin, the more tart Late Glow, sleeps a little later. It's ripe for picking at June's end.

Miller's family members all like strawberries and eat them washed and fresh off the vine. They grow a strawberry garden, and his daughter, Jenna, studies them for projects with her school's 4-H Club.

Eaten fresh and natural, strawberries are an excellent source of fiber. They are loaded with vitamin C and rich with potassium and vitamin A.

One cup has only 45 calories.

When you do get to the markets, look for fruit that is even-colored and disease free. If it's not wrapped in plastic, look for a strong aroma. The scent is nice but doesn't necessarily mean you're getting a sweeter-tasting berry, said Miller.

Once you get the berries home, unless they are frozen, the fruit will last about three days refrigerated.

No, strawberries don't last forever, but they are timeless.


  • 2 1/2 cups frozen strawberries
  • 2 1/2 cups frozen cut rhubarb
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, optional
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine or butter, cut into small pieces

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Toss strawberries and rhubarb and lemon juice in a large bowl.

Add syrup, cornstarch, cinnamon (optional) and nutmeg (optional); toss until well blended. Spread evenly in 9-inch square pan.

Mix flour, oats, sugar and margarine until crumbly.

Sprinkle over fruit mixture.

Bake 50 minutes or until topping is browned.

Makes 10 servings.

Adapted from "Celebrating Our Mothers' Kitchens," published by Tradery House for the National Council of Negro Women


If there is a better use for fresh Western Pennsylvania strawberries, we haven't tasted it yet. The recipe comes from Cook's Illustrated editor Christopher Kimball's cookbook "The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook," which is a delight. Try this cake and see.

  • 1 recipe Buttermilk Cake
  • 1 recipe Magic Whipped Cream Frosting (below)
  • 1 quart fresh strawberries, washed, dried and hulled
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Prepare cake; cool. Make Whipped Cream Frosting. Lay the strawberries on top of the cake (cut berries in half if especially large); sprinkle with sugar.

  • Buttermilk Cake: Btter and flour for preparing cake pans
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    Heat oven to 350 degrees. Set rack in middle position. Coat two 9-inch cake pans (we used a 9-by-13-inch pan) with butter or vegetable shortening and sprinkle with flour. Roll pans in all directions to coat, shaking out excess flour.

    Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl.

    Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed for 30 seconds (or by hand). Continue beating, gradually adding sugar. Beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Scrape down sides of bowl when necessary.

    Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture and 1/3 of the buttermilk and beat on low speed or by hand until just incorporated. Add the vanilla and then the remaining flour and buttermilk in 2 separate batches, beating between additions. Scrape down sides of bowl and stir by hand to finish.

    Divide batter between prepared pans. Smooth surface with a rubber spatula. Place pans in oven, a few inches apart, and bake about 30 minutes, or until top of cake springs back when lightly pressed in the center and a cake tester comes out clean. Check cake after 22 minutes. (Ours took 30 minutes.)

    Remove pans to a cooling rack. Let rest for 5 minutes. Run a small metal spatula around the sides of the pan and invert cakes onto greased racks. Reinvert cakes onto cooling rack. Let cool for at least 1 1/2 hours. (We frosted ours in the pan.)


    Most whipped cream frostings don't hold up well, so cookbook writer Christopher Kimball favors this version, which uses a bit of dissolved unflavored gelatin to give the whipped cream some stiffness and staying power. However, the frosted cake is still best kept in the refrigerator to preserve the texture and the shape of the frosting.

    • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
    • 2 tablespoons water
    • 2 cups heavy cream
    • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

    Chill bowl and beaters of an electric mixer in the freezer for at least 10 minutes.

    Sprinkle gelatin over 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan. Let dissolve for 4 minutes. Over very low heat, melt gelatin mixture, about 3 minutes.

    Place heavy cream and melted gelatin in the chilled bowl. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds until gelatin is thoroughly mixed into cream. Increase speed to high and beat until cream just starts to take shape. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until stiff.

    Boozy Variations: Add 1 tablespoon of any liquor, such as dark rum, bourbon, brandy or Cointreau, along with the heavy cream.

    Almond, Orange, and Lemon Variations: Use 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract, orange extract or lemon extract in place of the vanilla.

    "The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook" by Christopher Kimball

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