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MARGARET PROUSE: Strawberry season is full of flavours

Fresh, local strawberries are delicious in such a wide variety of recipes.
Fresh, local strawberries are delicious in such a wide variety of recipes. - Contributed

Where is the word strawberry derived from? I’ve heard people speculate that it’s a reference to the straw mulch between the rows in strawberry fields. A more likely explanation that I’ve read is that they’re named for their tiny straw-colour seeds.

We’re lucky to have access to strawberries for most of the year because truck transportation gives us access to berries grown in areas that have summer weather while it’s cold here. Ironically, many of the plants that those off-season strawberries grow on start their life in P.E.I. and are shipped to growers in the south.

We are into that lovely time of year when locally-grown strawberries are ripening. They are juicier, sweeter, more tender and altogether preferable to the varieties that are solid enough to survive a trip from the south; this year, the local ones are also harder to come by because of damage by the June frosts. That makes them even more precious.

The little wild ones around our property are ripe, but I only have the patience to pick a few to eat out of my hand. That shows how spoiled I am by the easy availability of bigger berries. Wild strawberries, like all wild berries, must have seemed like godsends to people before farmers began growing cultivated varieties.

Eastern Canada is not the only place where wild strawberries have been found. The ancient Romans believed that wild strawberries were capable of curing many conditions from toothache to gastric upsets. There are records of alpine strawberries, which the French called fraises des bois – strawberries from the woods – being cultivated as long ago as the 1600s. And in the 18th century wild beach strawberries, as “large as walnuts” were found growing on the coast of Chile. Aboriginal people in what is now the United States cultivated a variety called Fragaria virginiana; they crushed the berries and mixed them with meal to make bread. Wild strawberries persist in this area, a seasonal treat for young children with keen powers of observation.

Some of the cultivated strawberries in Island gardens and fields are now ripe. If you’re buying, look for berries that have fresh-looking green caps and uniformly coloured fruit. The colour of ripe berries varies, from bright orangey red to deep crimson, depending on the variety. Once picked, strawberries won’t ripen further, so berries with white tips will continue to have white tips.

Strawberries are wonderful for eating out of hand, topping shortcake, tossing into salads, scattering over ice cream, smothering in cream, baking in pies and transforming into jam. They keep best if held in the refrigerator, but the flavour is more intense when they’re warmer, so I usually let them come to room temperature before serving.

Of all the ways of serving strawberries, I think strawberry shortcake may be most popular. There are two schools of thought about which is better, the cake or biscuit version, and each has loyal adherents. I fall into the biscuit camp, preferring to let the sweetness of the berries complement the biscuit style shortcake.

There are also many recipes for strawberry soup, some made with wine, others with yogurt or cream, still others with just fruit. This year, I tried one with a favourite fruit combination: strawberries and rhubarb, with a bit of apple thrown in as well. It’s a chilled, light, puréed dessert, to serve on its own or with a cookie or piece of cake on the side.  Make it now, and serve when it gets cold.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Soup

Adapted from Silver, Daniella and Norene Gilletz: “The Silver Platter: Simple to Spectacular Wholesome Family-Friendly Recipes”. Artscroll/Shaar Press, Brooklyn, 2015.

1 L (4 cups) fresh or frozen strawberries

1 L (4 cups) fresh or frozen rhubarb pieces

2 large apples, peeled, cored, and sliced

175 mL (¾ cup) sugar

1 L (4 cups) water

6 sprigs fresh mint, for garnish

In a medium saucepan, combine strawberries (trimmed if fresh), rhubarb, apples, sugar and water. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat. Simmer, partially covered, for 10-15 minutes or until fruit is tender. Let cool slightly.

Using an immersion blender, purée soup. If too thick, add a little water.

Transfer to a container. Cover and refrigerate for 3-4 hours or overnight.

Serve chilled. Garnish with fresh mint.

If desired, top with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at islandgusto@gmail.com

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