PRESERVING SUMMER

Strawberry Preserves | for the love of the south

May means the beginning of strawberry season. Strawberries are the first fruit to kick off the parade of summer produce. A procession of peaches, blackberries, muscadines and figs quickly follow. I finally finished writing and editing my cookbook and am in desperate need of sunshine and loads of preserving. Preserving seems to unsettle some, but to me it’s relaxing. I love gathering quilted glass jars and watching them reflect in the morning light onto my white marble countertops, listening to the blip, blip, blip of the strawberries as they schmooze with the melting vanilla sugar. In a matter of moments, the kitchen fills with a fragrant cloud of sweet strawberries. To me, preserving is a practical, tangible way of suspending a moment in time before it has a chance to pass me by.

Preserving | for the love of the south

Whenever I bring strawberries home, I tip them into a bowl filled with 1 part distilled white vinegar to 4 parts cold water. Let them sit in the vinegar water for 10 minutes. Swish the berries around and rinse well in cold water. Line a rimmed baking sheet or plate with paper towels and allow the berries to air dry in a single layer. If you aren’t using the berries that day, cover loosely with paper towels and stash them away in the fridge for 3-5 days. (The vinegar water cleans the berries and keeps the berries fresh for a few days.) To hull the strawberries, take a paring knife in one hand and a strawberry stripped of its leaves in the other. Spin the strawberry around the tip of the paring knife, removing the green stem and white column in the center of the berry.

Strawberries | for the love of the south

I love serving these preserves on hot toast slathered with butter, or on waffles, pancakes and French toast. They are beautiful folded into softly whipped cream or spooned over vanilla ice cream for effortless summertime desserts.

Strawberry Preserves | for the love of the south

Strawberry & Vanilla Bean Preserves

Adapted from Canal House Cooks Everyday

Makes 4, half-pint jars

Note: The lemon peel serves two purposes. The first is for flavor, but the second is the most important. Strawberries, like most soft fruits, are low in pectin, but citrus pith is high in pectin. (It’s what gives marmalades that beautiful jelly-like consistency.) Make sure you don’t skip on the pith!

1½ cups plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scraped out

4 cups organic strawberries, washed and hulled, larger berries cut in half

Peel of 1 lemon, including the white pith (See Note)

 

Blitz granulated sugar and the vanilla bean seeds in a food processor for 30 seconds. Set aside.

Tumble the hulled strawberries in a heavy-bottomed pot. Fold in half of the sugar and bring to boil over medium-high heat stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Fold in the remaining vanilla sugar and boil for another 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, gently lift the berries from the syrup and lower them into a shallow bowl. Add the lemon peel to the syrup and bring to boil for 8-10 minutes, or until the syrup has thickened. Remove from the heat. Let the syrup cool slightly, and then slide the berries back in the syrup. Cover and set aside at room temperature, about 6 hours or overnight. Remove the lemon peel and ladle the preserves in sterilized jars and stash away in the fridge up to 1 month.

 

 

 

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STRAWBERRY FIELDS

Strawberry Shortcakes

Pulling off onto the unpaved, bouncy road suddenly woke me from my afternoon car nap. Cars lined up and down a small driveway, pulling off onto the grass as though they were parallel parking with imaginary lines as their guides. Minivans scattered as far as the eye could see. We were all here for the same reason, to pick berries, as many as our little buckets could hold.

The farm was actually a privately owned home with a berry farm attached. We made our way past the eternal line of cars and arrived at a canopy hanging (more like dangling) over a woman sitting comfortably in her lawn chair, handing out plastic buckets for our haul.

Strawberry Shortcakes

I walked alone to find my treasures, taking in the aroma of the berries, the warmth beating down on me from the sun, and the overall thrill of imagining the countless ways to consume these beauties. I dreamt of sweet, sticky strawberry jam stretching across layers of a delicate angel biscuit, eating them in the morning in a cereal bowl filled to the brim with berries, a dash of cream and sugar, or my favorite, as dessert. Strawberries left to sit alone, unharmed with a little bit of lemon juice and sugar atop shortcakes, which are still slightly warm from the oven, and a dollop of sweet, vanilla-scented whipped cream on the side for good measure.

And as I strewn fresh berries over warm shortcakes, the aroma brings me back to those moments of picking berries in May. This recipe preserves the moment of late spring and the memories it shares.

Strawberry Shortcakes

Recipe: Serves 4

Shortcake Biscuits:

1 cup of all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons of baking powder

2 teaspoons of sugar

½ teaspoon of salt

¾ cup of chilled heavy cream

Melted butter, for brushing

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Whisk flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a medium bowl until combined. Switching to a spoon, stir in the heavy cream and gently mix until the dough begins to hold together (the dough will still be very wet at this point.)

Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and lightly flour the top of the dough. Form the dough into a 4 ½ x3-inch rectangle, about 1-inch thick (if the dough sticks to your hands, just coat your fingers in flour and continue forming the dough.) Cut the dough in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise to form 4 rectangular biscuits.

Arrange biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing 1-inch apart. Brush the tops with butter. Bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Strawberries:

1 pound of fresh strawberries, cleaned, and hulled

2 tablespoons of sugar

Juice of 1 large lemon (or 2 smaller lemons)

Cut the strawberries in half for smaller berries and quarter any larger berries.

Toss berries, sugar and lemon juice until berries are coated with the juice and sugar. Let the berries macerate for at least 10 minutes.

Whipped Cream:

1 cup of heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon of sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk whipping cream, sugar and vanilla together on medium-high speed until soft peaks form

Assembly:

Carefully split biscuits with a serrated knife (they are quite fragile) and brush with more melted butter. Fill the biscuits with strawberries and any liquid from the berries. Serve with whipped cream.