This past Wednesday was Berry Days at the Camas Farmer's Market. While the beginning of July would often find us at the end of Strawberry Season in this area the sun has been so reluctant to show itself this year that our local berries are ripening weeks behind schedule. That means there was an abundance of local strawberries available this week as well as both golden and red raspberries.
Strawberries have been a favorite of mine as long as I can remember. My grandmother grew rows and rows of strawberries in her garden. Savoring handfuls of ripe berries, fresh-picked and still warm from the sun, was one of summer’s fondest pleasures. Those we didn't eat in the garden Grandma would slice and sprinkle with sugar, releasing their sweet juice to soak into cake or smother ice cream. What we didn't eat right away she froze for a time in mid-winter when sliced strawberries would be an unexpected treat.
The taste of my grandmother's strawberries were far and beyond that of any berries I purchased from the produce section once I moved away from home. For years it seemed that all I could find was boxes of California grown strawberries. Once past my initial amazement at the size I understood the taste and texture left much to be desired. They were all about looks and even those barely penetrated the surface. They lacked the inner beauty and tender sweetness of the strawberries I had known as a girl. I practically gave up on strawberries for many years.
A Short Sweet Season
If there is a perfect place to rediscover strawberries it is the Pacific Northwest. The local berries in Oregon and Washington are as close to my grandma’s berries as you can get: tender and sweet with an intense blush of beautiful color that penetrates to the core. In fact these strawberries may be even better. Oregon strawberries are well known for their slow-ripened sweetness developed over the mild days and cool evenings of the Northwest's spring and early summer. When they are ripe and ready to be picked they are strawberry perfection for a short sweet season.
The strawberries I brought home from the market this week were like that: wonderfully ripe, tender and sweet. Cleaned and sprinkled with just a little sugar they quickly produced a tart-sweet syrup that bathed each tender bite. We ate the first pint just that way.
Keeping It Simple
Plain and simple those strawberries were divine! In recent years, however, I have expanded my strawberry repertoire somewhat providing other ideas for the rest of my strawberries. Still, I prefer not to make things too complicated. I like strawberries fresh and with a minimal of added sweetness but even within those boundaries there is space to discover something new.
This season my discovery involved heat, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar in a very simple variation on Strawberry Shortcake. I served this last Wednesday evening when I had a couple of fresh Gibbasier from Truly Scrumptious at the Camas Farmer's Market. Luckily Kim made them again this week and with strawberries at their peak I did a repeat performance for this Wednesday's supper. Honestly, as easy as it was, summer desserts can scarcely get any better than this!
1 pint fresh local strawberries
1½ Tablespoon balsamic vinegar (I used Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar from Navidi's)
1½ Tablespoon brown sugar
½ cup whipping cream
Clean berries and cut into thick slices.
Stir together the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar until sugar begins to dissolve.
Place a small skillet over medium heat. When hot, transfer sliced strawberries to the skillet. Drizzle with about half or a little more of the brown sugar mixture.
Cook and stir the strawberries until they begin to soften, approximately two to three minutes, depending on size and ripeness of the berries.
Place the whipping cream in a small mixing bowl. Stir in the remaining brown sugar mixture. Using an electric mixer, rotary egg beater or whisk, whip the cream until soft peaks form.
Spoon the warm strawberries over slices of toasted Gibassier, or other sweet bread. Top with the balsamic whipped cream.
Serve and enjoy!