Friday, June 22, 2007

Summer Solstice Strawberries

If you are traveling in Minnesota in June, be aware of one of the great summertime treats of all time. About the time of the summer solstice, one of my favorite delicacies avails itself to us in Minnesota: strawberries. Many people pick and buy them for making jam, sometimes combining them with other berries or rhubarb to create savory and delicious spreads. Some use them in fresh salads or serve them fresh and whole with a dipping chocolate. But to me, the best of all possible ways to enjoy fresh strawberries is to have them chopped, sweetened with sugar, and served with cream.

The key to preparing strawberries and cream is canned mushrooms. If you buy a seven-ounce can of mushrooms, which is typically four ounces drained, you have the device that will properly chop and crush the strawberries. Prior to the strawberry season, or even during, open the can of mushrooms and use them in a favorite dish. Save the can. Then, after peeling off the paper wrapper, take the can opener and cut off the top, rolled edge of the open end. This will create a sharp, round edge. Then, turn the can over and, with a can opener that punches a triangular hole in a lid, punch two holes opposite each other in the remaining cover. This lets air into the can and keeps it from clogging as you chop. Now you have an efficient and inexpensive food chopper.

Now, using either a glass or steel bowl, fill it two-thirds full with fresh strawberries. Of course, the size of the bowl and the size of your family will determine the amount of strawberries. But take the can chopper and chop the strawberries. You will find that you can easily pick the consistency you desire. You can leave the strawberries chunky or continue to chop until they become a sauce. I prefer the latter consistency. After that, add some sugar. Real sugar, not sweetener. Taste test so that it is sweet, but not too sweet. Then set is aside for a bit, maybe thirty minutes, to let the berries absorb the sugar as it dissolves.

Then, when you're ready to serve them, spoon them into a bowl and do one of two things: serve them with half and half or with freshly whipped cream. If you use half and half, pour it carefully and lightly over the top of the sweetened strawberries, trying to keep the half and half on top of the strawberries. Because of the consistency of half and half, pouring it as described will create a white topping streaked with the redness of the sauce that peeks through. To use cream, choose heavy whipping cream. Put it in a bowl, add sugar, and with a wire whisk, whip it until it forms a thick consistency, but stop before it becomes firm. Try to achieve a consistency that will allow you to pour the sweetened cream over the top of the strawberries. In this case, you will have strawberries completely covered in white. It's really, really good.

The neat thing about strawberries and cream is that it can be enjoyed as a wonderful dessert, or simply as a really great bedtime treat--especially for the kids. You could even have it for breakfast. And you can sneak a bowl when everyone else is away and never tell. That is the best part; it's a gift to yourself.

Always use fresh strawberries, real sugar, real half and half, or real cream. This is not a diet treat. But don't be surprised if, after two or three summers of doing this, that the kids (and even your spouse) begin to look forward to it and, as time goes on, incorporate it into the family stories.

This year the strawberries are particularly good. They are large, like golf balls, juicy and sweet. This is one of those years when nature provided optimum growing conditions. If you buy some, buy them from one of the roadside growers or from the farm itself. Or even better, take the kids with you for a strawberry-picking outing. It's not necessarily easy (lots of bending and picking), but it will be a great story for the kids and it will make eating this delightful treat so much more special.

Strawberries and cream is one of the absolutely greatest delicacies I have ever had and something I will always remember and look forward to enjoying again and again.

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