Enjoy the sweet taste of summer strawberries

Published 11:59 pm Friday, April 24, 2009

There is no sweeter sign of spring than the taste of strawberries. I remember going out in the strawberry fields of North Carolina with my three small children and picking strawberries. There were so sweet and warm just eating them in the fields—and I loved bringing them home and having fresh berries for several days.

Going way back in my youth I remember Shoney’s strawberry pie. We lived in rural Tennessee and our biggest thrill was when Shoney’s came to a town 30 miles away and brought their famous strawberry pie. We would drive the 30 miles and have the pie and drive home. We only did this every now and then but it was a treat when you are rather poor.

Strawberries have a history that goes back 2,200 years. Strawberries grew wild in Italy as long ago as 234 B.C., and were discovered in Virginia by the first Europeans when their ships landed here in the 16th century. Early settlers in Massachusetts enjoyed eating strawberries grown by local American Indians who cultivated strawberries as early as 1643. Commercial strawberry growing began in America about 1800 near the largest eastern cities. Strawberries moved west with the pioneers. After 1860s strawberries were widely grown in many parts of the country. Today, California has the largest strawberry industry and Florida is the second and Oregon third. More than 25,000 acres of strawberries are planted in California each year, which gives them 80 percent of the market in the United States.

Strawberries are from the Rosaceae family, and are of the Fragaria genus. They are not berries or fruit at all, but enlarged ends of the plant’s stamen. Strawberry seeds are in the outer skin, instead of in the inner berry. There are about 200 seeds per berry.

Strawberries are non-fat and low in calories, rich in vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, fiber, and vitamin B6. Throughout history, strawberries have been used for medicinal purposes. They have been used for sunburn, discolored teeth, digestion, and gout. As far back as the 13th century, the strawberry was used as aphrodisiac.

So go out and eat all the strawberries you can. If you get inspired try these wonderful strawberry recipes—I mean what is better than strawberry shortcake? Or maybe a strawberry pie? If all else fails you could do strawberries and cream! My, my—it is good eating.

Strawberry Shortcake

Makes 6-8 servings

4 cups topped and sliced strawberries

1 tablespoon sugar, or more to taste

1 pint whipping cream

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups bleached all-purpose flour

2 ½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into chips

¾ cup milk

Whole berries and fresh mint for garnish

Place the berries in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar to taste. Cover and refrigerate. Whip the cream and add the vanilla and a little sugar if you want it sweet. Cover and chill.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients and then add the chilled butter with a pastry blender or two knives. When the mixture resembles coarse meal, add the milk and mix well and quickly. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead briefly.

Roll out the dough to ½ -inch thick. Cut into 3-inch rounds and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Brush the tops with a little milk and sprinkle, if you like, with a little sugar. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

Cool the biscuits for a minute or so, then split them open. Spread each half lightly with butter. Then top the bottom halves with the berries and a topping of whipped cream. Cover with the other halves. Add more whipped cream and berries. Garnish with a berry or two and mint sprigs.

Shoney’s Strawberry Pie

1 quart strawberries

1 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of salt

4 tablespoons cornstarch

½ cup water

Baked pie shell

Whipped cream

Cut green tops from strawberries. Mash ½ of the strawberries with a potato masher. Combine mashed berries, sugar, salt, cornstarch and water in a large saucepan. Cook until the mixture becomes clear. Refrigerate for at least two hours. (You want the sauce to cool completely.)

Fold the whole berries and the sauce together. Pour berry mixture into a baked and completely cooled pie shell. Garnish with whipped cream.

At Shoney’s, the sauce and the berries are kept in separate containers until they are needed. The waiter or waitress will go back and put the pie together when they are ordered. They put one pint of cleaned berries into an already-baked pie shell, add one cup of sauce and the whipped cream.