Fresh-picked strawberries used to be a luxury reserved for royalty. Whether the timing of the Wimbledon tennis championship (from June 23 to July 1 this year) was originally planned to take advantage of the strawberry harvest or not, the strawberry has been a ubiquitous symbol of this premier event since 1877. According to Wimbledon’s website, 1.2 million fresh strawberries are consumed (along with fresh cream) during the tournament, most harvested a day or two before from local farms.
Strawberries aren’t just for spectators, though. They should be on every athlete’s training table because of their unique combination of vitamin C, fiber and anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory enzymes. But that two-day freshness window is an important one. After that, strawberries rapidly lose their health benefits, according to researchers. Luckily, refrigeration slows the process, but it’s still important to consume fresh strawberries in season.
So what to do with all those strawberries you picked in late June or early July? Well, Meaghan Lovejoy of Kennebunkport, author of a food blog called “The Way to His Heart”, has plenty of ideas to share. She just finished experimenting, with 10 pounds of strawberries, for a Grilled Skillet Strawberry Pie for Smart Balance spreads that will be released on her blog later this month.
Those “experimental” strawberries were trucked in from out of state – since she had to settle on a recipe in early June – but she usually uses fresh-picked (organic if possible) strawberries from local farmers for her recipes, to the delight of her husband, 4-year-old daughter and 7-month-old son.
Eating them fresh, tossed with lime juice, honey and a few springs of mint (a la her recent Red, White, and Blue Fruit Salad recipe) might be the best way to go on a hot, summer day – and the best way to feel good about the health benefits. But Lovejoy’s blog shows that the strawberry is a versatile fruit, the centerpiece of a number of strawberry-based recipes, including strawberry chipotle jam, strawberry leather, strawberry rhubarb calzones, and strawberry rhubarb lemonade.
As she writes on her blog, strawberries are the perfect way to celebrate the return of our short, but idyllic Maine summer: “I like to sit close to my daughter and share a bowl of these strawberries and whipped cream on our deck. Letting the sun hit our shoulders and our bare-feet dangle. Summer how we have missed you!”
Lovejoy grew up in New York and South Carolina. She gets her passion for experimenting with recipes gleaned from other sources from her mother, who was always bringing home a recipe from the hotel where she worked. Marrying a man who could have lived on meat and potatoes also spurred Lovejoy to find ways to slowly add more variety to dishes he was already used to, and to recreate gourmet recipes in a family-friendly way.
Lovejoy started her blog five years ago and soon found herself with a following. Her recipes, which she gathers and tests before publishing, come from magazines, websites, and even the message boards of local stores. Her original recipes have won awards and been featured on such shows as the “Today” show and on websites such as Buzzfeed.
Lovejoy says her husband’s favorite of her strawberry-based recipes is his birthday cake – a simple chocolate cake covered in strawberries and whipped cream.
“Very simple and nothing done to the strawberries,” she says. “Now my biggest tackle is my pre-schooler, since she has hit the picky stage.”
Lovejoy’s daughter is at the age where she can start to help her mother in the kitchen and out in the garden. They don’t grow strawberries, but they do have rhubarb, which Lovejoy has found to be a wonderful complement. Lovejoy advises picking the thinner stalks of rhubarb that are pink or red, and she cautions that the leaves are poisonous and not for consumption.
“I think everyone loves that sweet, yet tart combination. It really plays up the taste buds,” Lovejoy says. “They are also in season at approximately the same time, so it’s easy to grab both. There are so many ways to use both, from entrees, to beverages to dessert.”
Since strawberries are so fragile – and short-lived – Lovejoy often flash-freezes them by laying them in a single layer, either whole or sliced, on a cookie sheet lined with wax or parchment paper. After 30 minutes or so in the freezer, they can be transferred into freezer bags and stored for up to six months.
Lovejoy’s tip for cooking with strawberries is to take caution when adding an additional sweetener, be it sugar, agave or honey. “Since strawberries will become sweeter as they break down, you want to taste as you go,” she says.
Lovejoy says her favorite go-to recipe when she is running out of ideas for how to use up all her strawberries is one of the simpler ones. Using fresh-picked fruit, a la Wimbledon, but with a twist, it is called, Strawberries in Meyer Lemon Syrup.
“While you do taste the Meyer lemon, what it really does is bring out the fresh, wonderful flavor of the strawberries… It is so versatile and I usually make some adaptation of it during strawberry season.”
Meaghan Lovejoy of Kennebunkport is a food blogger who has plenty of ideas about taking advantage of Maine’s brief strawberry season. For more of Lovejoy’s recipes, go to her blog at http://www.thewaytohisheartblog.com/.
Recipes from Lovejoy’s blog
Strawberry Rhubarb Lemonade
1?2 cup fresh lemon juice
4 cups water
2 cups sliced rhubarb
1 cup quartered strawberries
6 tablespoons sugar
Start with fresh lemon juice in a pitcher. Place water, rhubarb, strawberries, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Place in freezer for 30 minutes. Press mixture through a fine sieve into pitcher with lemon juice; discard solids. Stir to combine and serve over ice.
Makes 4 cups
Source: Cooking Light August 2013
Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Cake
tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus room-temperature butter for pan
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1?2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1?4 teaspoon salt
1?4 pound rhubarb, cut into half-inch pieces
1?4 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1?2 teaspoon baking powder
1?4 teaspoon salt
1?2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 large eggs
1?2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pre-heat oven to 350. Butter an 8-inch-square baking pan. Line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the sides. Butter and flour both the pan and parchment pan, shaking out the excess flour.
To make the streusel, whisk together the butter, brown sugar, and salt. Add the flour and mix with a fork until large crumbs form. Refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the cake, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, brown sugar, and 1/4 cup of flour in a medium bowl. In another medium bowl, whisk 3/4 cup flour, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat butter and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in one at a time. With the mixer on low, beat in the vanilla and then the flour mixture. Spread the batter in the prepared pan.
Sprinkle the rhubarb and strawberries over the top of the batter and then cover the top with the streusel.
Bake until golden and a tookpick comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 40 to 50 minutes. Let the cake cool completely in the pan. Using the paper overhang, lift the cake from the pan.
Serve as a cake or cut into 16 bars.
Adapted from Everyday Food