Monday, June 15, 2009

Oh, Strawberry Seasons!

Now that it is finally here we find ourselves racing through this season. The flowers click past – bloom, prime, soggy mess – and foods ripen, linger on the tongue, then become memories until next year.

Iris are outgoing, laid prone like dead things by the rain, or, if still upright, having turned soggy all the way down to the last silken cocoon that will not blossom anywhere near as stoutly as that first one that yelled, “I’m HEE errr” a week or so ago.

First peonies yesterday, and they will be even quicker, just at their glory, if all goes as usual, when rain and wind will mangle their pretty sweet carcasses. “Oh, Weep,” they go, drooping their draggled heads, forsaken even by the ants. But mourning is cut short as the loud orange poppies shout out their flamboyant birth. And they, too, will pass.

February hovers in the background, rubbing her hands together and croaking, “Dance, my pretties. Dance!” So. Might as well dance! Gorging ourselves on each sweet seasonal treat as it comes along.

Strawberries last Tuesday.
I was not expecting them, spied that berry sign, my heart quickened. Mmm, they are good. Oh. Juicy, speckled, just the slight crunch of the infinitesimal seeds on the outside. Are they the only fruits with seeds on the outside? Sweet, with a bite almost crisp, while your teeth force the juice down through the cellulars of it. Oh my goodness! They are more than taste, they are primordial season, they are eating exercise, they are experience.

Oh, Strawberry Seasons! Don’t get me started.

Long scorching rows, crouching, kneeling, silent pickers sliding carriers along between rows, knees stained crushed-crimson, islands of chatter under the blasting sun, an occasional guffaw almost lost in the hot infinity, weed patches, older children watching young ones in the shade of the tree line, hillbillies, we called them, migrants, packing shed romances, the check clutched at the end of the season, oh, new refrigerator that we’ve needed so long; oh, engagement ring – “Please be my strawberry partner?” But I told you... don’t let me get started!

But eating them. One by one they’re good, until the quart is gone, and I have to drive down past the farm again, and this time I stop and buy two quarts. I eat them plain, from the green cardboard basket, pinching the cap into a handle and nibbling all around it, berry after berry, all the way to Manchester. They are so clean, but with a fine grit once in awhile, so then I’m home again putting them in a large bowl in mucho cold water, roiling them gently and scooping them in double handfuls into a colander. A surprising amount of dirt stays behind in the bottom of the bowl, all of which would have no doubt done my digestive system a good deed.

Sometimes I dip a finger into roasted cumin seeds and a bit of salt to go with the strawberry bite. There is fantastic fresh chèvre, right now, because the goats are eating fast-growing green grass, and their milk is delicate and healthy, the cheese creamy and fresh as violets. PhotobucketAnd when you have sliced a strawberry not quite in half from the flower end toward the stem end and tucked a tiny sliver of goat cheese between two halves, with a bit of roasted cumin, and sea salt sprinkled there, too, and you have a plate of those, sprinkled with whole mint leaves, or basil, and maybe just a drop or two of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, that is not too shabby a treat.

The last berries of that first basket were part of a perfect little scatter that served as dinner that night: First was sautéed a quantity of Swiss chard with lots of fresh green garlic from the garden, and that was mounded on some of Al Sheps’ multi-grain toasts, with his fresh mozzarella (never refrigerated) torn over the whole thing, and some weird little pasta balls called Sa Fregula Sarda boiled up and scattered there, too, and the quartered strawberries, and over all a drizzle of basil vinaigrette.

I seldom go to Manchester without stopping at Al Ducci’s to see Al and Nancy, and to pick up some fresh mozzarella that remains soft and layered and oozing creamy liquids until it’s refrigerated, after which it is used for pizza.

I’m on my fifth quart of berries @ $4.75 apiece, when I remember to ask if they’re organic. No, they are not! The owner would not dream of growing organic berries. They would be too expensive. My expression is downcast. I cannot think of words. I have gorged on these berries. These berries have been my sustenance for a week; their strawberriness must last me for the next year. I’ve even eaten the little bit of tasty dirt that dusted their shoulders. Chemical fertilizers? What is expensive?

Well, Woods Market Garden, in Brandon, is charging $5.50 per nicely rounded, mounded quarts of organically grown but not Certified Organic, strawberries. But when U pick U’r own they will be $2.75 per pound, which translates to about $3.45 per quart.

So, I ask, What’s expensive? New knees are expensive, and I may need some after crouching and kneeling. But, you only live once, right?

Now I’m thinking I should quit rhapsodizing and kvetching and give you a recipe, and the one that quickly springs to mind is a Strawberry and Spinach Salad that appears every year at Eldred and Lily’s 4th of July Pig Roast, and it is a battle to get a taste.

Spinach and Strawberry Salad
Caveat: I can’t remember who gave me this recipe, and for that I apologize to her. I give it here to you
only if you promise NOT to take it to Eldred and Lily’s 4th of July party!

Wash and dry about 1 ½ pounds of garden-fresh spinach. Clean, hull and slice 1 pint of strawberries. Toss them together with this dressing:

• ¼ cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
• 1 tablespoons poppy seeds
• 1 ½ tablespoon minced onion
• ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
• ¼ tsp paprika
• 1/3 cup olive oil
• ¼ cup cider vinegar

Shake or whisk all ingredients together and dress the salad.

And since now is the season for the most gorgeous lettuces and spinaches and other gorge-worthy foods, as well as basil and the other herbs, which are all so simple to prepare and arrange on nibbling plates like I described above, perhaps you would like a recipe for the dressing I mentioned, too.

Basil Dressing
From the Gourmet Magazine website
• 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil
• 1 ½ tablespoons chopped shallot
• 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• ¾ teaspoons salt
• ¼ teaspoon black pepper
• 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
• 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Enjoy all this. Slow it down. Don’t let it go by without wringing out of it the most awareness possible. We are just now preserving enough food nostalgia to last us for the coming year.


Penny said...

Loved this post. There is a story in here about Michigan and the migrant workers. I will make both of the salad dressings. They sound wonderful.

sharon parquette nimtz said...

Hey Penny, I am being reminded more of Michigan and the migrants, with whom I have always felt a strange empathy, by being in touch with Connee, who is still involved in that world, for which I feel some nostalgia. Strawberry seasons played many a nuance in my life, and, it seems, yours. I'm not sure what similar touchstone our children have.