by Christina Pirello
During that brief but heavenly time known as early strawberry season, I can think of no other fruit that inspires thoughts of sensuality and romance like these lush berries. Slightly sweet, with just enough tartness to sparkle on our tongue, strawberries seduce us... and we willingly submit for a whirlwind affair.
Strawberries are the fruit of a perennial plant that grows in temperate climates all over the world. Wild strawberries are the ancestors of today’s cultivated berries and are small and juicy, with a tendency to be more flavorful and headily fragrant than the cultivated varieties. Over time and cultivation, more than 600 varieties of strawberry have sprouted, varying greatly in size, color, texture and taste.
The strawberry plant is low-growing with many horizontal stolons (stalks) spreading out from the base, taking root to form new plants. The strawberry we eat is not actually the fruit of the plant, but is the result of a swelling at the end of the plant’s stalks, which occurs after pollination of the flowers. The actual fruit is the small yellowish seeds (achene) that dot the surface of the strawberry.
Best during late spring and early summer, choose strawberries that are firm and slightly shiny. Look for a healthy, uniform color, which indicates that they were ripe when picked. Locally grown berries will always have the best flavor, as they don’t stand up well to heat, handling and shipping. The slightest bump will bruise them, causing them to rot quickly.
An excellent source of vitamin C, strawberries are also a rich source of potassium, folic acid, magnesium and vitamin B. Strawberry leaves can be brewed into a tea to provide relief from water retention.
They are great in pies and tarts, as the crowning glory of strawberry shortcake, dipped in dark chocolate or simply eaten fresh. Strawberry juice dribbling down your chin is a harbinger of the lazy days of summer to come. Here’s a favorite way to serve them fresh.
Sweet Strawberry Pie
At the height of their season, when strawberries are their sweetest,
this should be a regular on your table
- 2 pounds fresh strawberries, tops removed, quartered
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extracts
- 1/2 cup brown rice syrup
- Sea salt
- 2 cups raw almonds
- 1 ¾ cups pitted dates
- Combine strawberries, lemon juice, vanilla, rice syrup and a pinch of salt in a bowl and toss to combine. Set aside while you make the crust.
- Place almonds in a blender and pulse on high until they resemble bread crumbs. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
- Place dates in blender with about a tablespoon of water and pulse on high until well-chopped… it will be a little clumpy.
- Combine almonds and dates until they hold together and then press evenly onto the bottom and sides of the pie plate to form a crust.
- Spoon berries generously into the crust, discarding any remaining liquid. Refrigerate for 2 hours before slicing into wedges and serve.
Cook’s tip: You can purchase finely ground almond flour and save the work of step 2.