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Nourishments-A Season For Strawberries



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A Season For Strawberries

By Nancy K. Crevier


“Strawberries that in gardens grow

Are plump and juicy fine,

But sweeter far as wise men know

Spring from the woodland vine.” ~ Robert Graves

They are there right now, tiny white flowers sprawling over the ground at the edge of the fields and woods. The five petals of each flower surround a frizzy yellow center and all along the vines that hug the earth are the distinctive saw-toothed leaves: wild strawberries.

As soon as I spot them, my memory conjures up a picture: my daughter, not yet three years old, walking down the hill of our property in eastern Connecticut, eyes fastened on something on the ground that I was too far up in the air to see.

“What?” she asks, pointing at the ground. I squint my eyes, and kneel down to get a closer look. Crimson-colored berries cover a patch of earth, each one just half the size of my pinky fingernail. I would have mashed them into the dirt had I not been strolling with her.

“Strawberries!” I declare, and I show her how to gently pinch the fruit from its stem, which is no thicker than a piece of thread. She crouches next to me and begins to pluck the berries, counting as she deposits each one into the palm of my hand, “One, two, five, nine…” It takes us awhile, but eventually a small pile of bleeding berries stain my hand and we carry them back to the house to rinse them off. Only the lightest spray of water can be used, as the berries are at the peak of ripeness.

I set them on a paper towel and we pull up chairs to the table. “Can we eat them?” she asks, her fingers already poised above the cache. We do.

Her eyes widen as she slowly chews one tiny berry. Each minute morsel is an arsenal of flavor, a sweet explosion in the mouth.

The berries disappear in an instant. My daughter is at the door, lips and fingertips sunburned by the juice of the strawberries. “Strawberries!” she says, and holding her hand, once again we set off down the hill. It will be, I know, a short walk.

You have to be quick to harvest the wild strawberries. Chipmunks, squirrels and birds have noticed the brilliantly white flowers that bloom in May, and are as eager as you to note when the fruit sets and when the berries have ripened to perfection. I would not plan a meal around the harvest, personally. The fleeting season and fierce competition makes the rare mouthful only a treasured treat.

But if your appetite for strawberries is not sated by foraging this spring, the next best thing is just around the corner: pick-your-own strawberry farms will be advertising their wares by mid-June. Again, the season is brief, but what can beat an early summer morning than an hour or so spent hunched over a row of strawberry plants, each one heavy with berries? The birds are singing, the sun shines, and the aroma of stray strawberries crushed beneath clumsy feet is in the air. Visions of strawberry shortcake, strawberry ice cream, strawberry jam, strawberry pie, or simply strawberries piled in a bowl fill my head when I pick. Three for the basket, one for my mouth. I imagine vitamins C and A, potassium, manganese, and natural fluorine (folklore says that rubbing a wild strawberry over the teeth will whiten them) racing through my blood stream, antioxidants and fiber fighting off the free radicals they encounter. Mostly, though, it is the intense, pure flavor that brings a sigh of satisfaction. 

I will watch the trove of berry blossoms I have recently discovered, and if I am lucky, I will stumble upon the ripened fruit before the birds descend. I will pour water from my bottle over one red berry, pop it in my mouth, and remember a time of discovery.

A full basket weighs heavily on the arm, but lightens the heart. It’s time to head to the kitchen.

Ricotta Squares with Strawberries

2 Tbs melted unsalted butter

¼ C honey

¾ C walnuts

½ C whole wheat pastry flour

Pinch salt

1 lb whole milk ricotta

2 eggs

1/3  C honey

Grated rind of one lemon

¼ tsp nutmeg

1/8  tsp cinnamon

Place nuts in processor with steel blade and pulse until nuts are coarsely ground. Add flour and process just until combined. With processor running, pour in melted butter and honey and then pulse dough just until it holds together.

Pat the dough into a 9 x 13 pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

While dough is baking, place ricotta, eggs, honey, lemon and spices in processor and process until completely smooth.

Pour over crust and return pan to oven.

Bake for about  20-30 minutes more, just until topping begins to set and edges are golden brown.

Cool completely and refrigerate.

Cut into squares and top with lightly honey-sweetened strawberries. If you are fortunate enough to have wild strawberries, only the slightest amount of sweetener is needed, so as not to overpower the flavor of the wild berries.

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