There's nothing like the first bite of a bright-red spring strawberry. The flood of tart, complex juice is sure to waken taste buds dulled by the starchy comfort foods of winter.
As our short strawberry season wends on, the flavors begin to change. Lengthening days and climbing mercury give rise to darker berries with sweet, jammy overtones. While the early berries are complemented by a touch of sugar and splashes of heavy cream, the later ones are perfect for eating out of hand. Preferred method: Standing in the berry patch on a sunny day with leaves tickling your ankles.
And the Green Mountain state has an abundance of places where you can do just that: The Agency of Agriculture's website reports 90 strawberry growers in the state, who produce nearly 2 million pounds of berries each year. It also offers a list of places to get your pick-your-own fix, from Addison County to Windsor County. If you don't have time to DIY, you'll find farmstands listed, too.
Unfortunately, you can't hang out all day eating in the berry patch — unless you happen to own your own. And since people invariably pick more berries than they're going to eat (don't you?), here are a few ideas for using the leftovers, proffered by some local experts.
Whether you like your berries hot in a scone, cool in a cheesecake or icy in a granita, we'll get you out of your jam. And if you're in search of something a little more potent, we've got that, too. Don't use booze? Go for a swig of strawberry lemonade.
Use them or lose them — by the first week in July, those fresh local berries will be history. But don't fret about the season ending: It just brings us one step closer to blueberries.
Paul Reynolds, 33, of Montpelier is making a sizable claim. The violist, who teaches at Middlebury College and plays with groups such as the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and the Vermont Mozart Festival, thinks he's found the world's biggest strawberry: He's so sure he even posted a challenge on YouTube, asking people to reply with their own videos and "try to become the strawberry king." How big, exactly? Reynolds' berry came in at 5 inches long and 3 inches wide.
Have the folks at the Montpelier Shaw's, where Reynolds' wife purchased the berry, heard about the video? When contacted, Darcy Perrault, the produce manager, was in the dark about her store's new claim to fame. "I'm totally unaware of it," she said, laughing.
How about the growers in California who made all this possible? Anthony Gallino, vice president for sales at California Giant, hasn't seen the video either, but plans to. He guesses the whopper is of the Albion variety, which is big and super-sweet.
But before you assume this was a genetically modified Franken-fruit, consider that Vermont's organic strawberry growers offer some almost comparable big 'uns, like the Cabot variety grown at Adam's Berry Farm in the Intervale. From the West Coast, Gallino scoffs at the notion that the Reynolds' berry is actually the world's biggest. "There are some bigger," he insists. The question is, who has 'em?
Seven Days contacted Reynolds to ask a few questions about the super-fruit.
SEVEN DAYS: Do you plan to preserve the strawberry for posterity? Maybe you could varnish it or something.
PAUL REYNOLDS: My plan was to preserve it . . . I thought about selling it on eBay, and I told my wife about that. But we agreed that, in transit, it probably wouldn't last.
SD: What did you ultimately decide? Did you carve it up like a Thanksgiving turkey?
PR: My 2-year-old daughter's eyes were so big when she saw it that I couldn't resist giving it to her . . . she ate the whole thing.
SD: That must have taken a while.
PR: About 20 minutes. She had it all over her face and she just kept saying how good it was.
SD: How did you come upon the strawberry? Did you comb through a bin at the grocery store?
PR: It was in a regular container of strawberries. The top layer was made of normal-sized strawberries; the bottom was one big berry.
SD: How did the discovery make you feel?
PR: I felt it shouldn't be for my eyes alone . . . I'm not sure it was supposed to be sent to me, but it was, and I get to share it with the world.
SD: How's that sharing thing going? Are people flocking to see it?
PR: I'm playing Madame Butterfly at the Barre Opera House tonight, and my stand partner saw the video and is very impressed. I've had about 150 views so far [as of last Friday]. I'd like to reach 150,000.
All About the Berries
• Strawberries are related to roses, raspberries, apples and plums — but not to blueberries.
• Despite the name, strawberries aren't "berries" in the botanical sense. Each seed is technically a separate fruit; what we call a "berry," scientists call an "aggregate."
• Strawberries are grown in every U.S. state and every Canadian province.
• The average strawberry has 200 seeds.
• In Bavaria, some folks still tie baskets of wild strawberries to the horns of their cattle. According to tradition, elves like strawberries so much that they'll enhance calf and milk production in exchange for the treat.
• Argentines considered strawberries poisonous until the mid-19th century. The French were less fraise-phobic. Medieval monarch Charles V had 1200 strawberry plants installed in the gardens at the Louvre. Madame Tallien, a fashion icon at Napoleon's court, was said to bathe in crushed strawberries.
• Native Americans called strawberries "heart-seed berries." Perhaps the shape also gave rise to the legend that if you split and share a double strawberry, you'll soon fall in love with your co-eater. No word on what happens if you split a quadruple strawberry with three other people.
Katy Lesser, Healthy Living, South Burlington
Deliriously Wonderful Strawberry Pie
Comment: I've made this strawberry cheesecake pie for many, many years . . . one year I made 27 of them for a friend's wedding!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1/2 pack McVitie's Digestive Biscuits (these are super-duper graham crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted butter
In a food processor, process the McVitie's and sugar until fine crumbs form. Add the butter and pulse until combined. Press this mixture into a pie plate, coming up the sides to make a neat edge.
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Have all your ingredients at room temperature. Combine, mixing until smooth and creamy. Pour into your shell and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and lower temperature to 300 degrees. Cool for 20 minutes.
Cover with 2 cups sour cream mixed with sugar to taste. Bake for 5 minutes.
Take 1 pint perfect, ripe, glistening, gorgeous Vermont strawberries, hulled and halved, and decorate the top of your tart with concentric circles of these beauties. You will have a magical, delicious, deliriously wonderful dessert!
Suzanne and Clark Hinsdale, Charlotte Berry Farm
Strawberry Chocolate Tart
1 2/3 cups flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons ice-cold water
Sift dry ingredients; cut in butter. Blend with your fingertips to the consistency of coarse meal. Mix egg yolks, vanilla and water and blend with butter mixture, using a fork, until well blended. Roll into a ball and chill for 2-3 hours.
Roll dough between two sheets of waxed paper. Press the dough onto the bottom and sides of a removable-bottomed tart pan, leaving the upper edge of the dough a bit above the pan. Make an edge with your fingers. Chill. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork, line the inside with foil and pie weights (or beans or rice) and cook for 8 minutes.
Remove the foil and weights, and return to the oven until the edges begin to brown, 8-10 minutes.
1 cup chocolate pieces (dark, semi-sweet, milk or white)
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons liqueur (orange or cherry, or whatever would blend well with the type of chocolate you use. Or none, if preferred.)
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon water (or a little more)
Prepare strawberries (see below) before you melt chocolate. Melt chocolate slowly in a double boiler. Add butter and liqueur, if desired, and whisk until smooth. Add sugar and water, continuing to whisk. Pour into tart shell.
1 1/2 pints strawberries, washed and with stems removed
1/2 cup currant (or other) jelly for glaze
1/4 cup white and 1/4 cup brown chocolate, melted separately
While chocolate is still warm, place berries on chocolate, bottom side up, in a circular pattern. Melt jelly and brush over berries. Drizzle lightly with white and brown chocolate. Refrigerate to set, then allow to come to room temperature before serving. Enjoy!
Raechel Barone and Ben Bush, On the Rise Bakery, Richmond
Strawberry Scones &(makes six)
2 cups unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 tablespoons cold butter
1/2 cup cream or half and half
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2/3 cup chopped fresh strawberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir baking powder into flour. Cut in butter with a pastry blender. Whisk together half and half, egg and syrup. Add to dry ingredients and toss together lightly. Stir in strawberries, being careful not to over-mix. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. With floured hands, shape and press into a rectangle that is about 4-by-12 inches and 1.5 inches thick. Divide into three and cut each third in half to form two triangles. This gives you six triangular scones. Separate and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes until they are lightly browned. The aroma when scones are taken from the oven is wonderful! Enjoy.
Frank Pace, Pace Catering and Shelburne Supermarket
Strawberry-Rhubarb &Vol au Vent
1 pint fresh, local strawberries, diced
1 pint local rhubarb, chopped
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 sheet store-bought puff pastry
1 bunch mint
1 cup organic whipping cream, whipped with 1 tablespoon sugar
Cut puff pastry into quarters. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes until golden brown. Bring sugar and water to a boil. Add rhubarb and let steep off the heat for 20 minutes. Strain off liquid and add diced strawberries. Fold in chopped mint.
To assemble, put a piece of puff pastry on a plate. Top with one scoop of strawberry-rhubarb compote and one scoop of whipped cream. Garnish with finely chopped mint.
1 pint local strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch kosher salt
Macerate berries with sugar and juice of two lemons for 20 minutes. Add vanilla and salt, and puree in blender or food processor. Strain through a fine mesh and transfer to a heavy baking dish. Put in freezer and stir every 15 minutes until ice crystals form. Continue until all liquid is frozen. Serve in chilled martini glasses with fresh mint.
Adam Hausman, Adam's Berry Farm, Intervale, Burlington
Homemade Strawberry Lemonade
Comment: This is a great summer patio drink - cooling, refreshing and full of vitamin C.
1 cup sugar, maple syrup or honey
1 cup lemon juice from five lemons - include the zest for a bolder flavor
2-3 cups fresh strawberries
Dissolve the sugar in 2 cups of water; add the lemon juice and zest and 2 more cups of water. Puree berries and stir into lemonade mixture. Some people like to strain the concoction at this point. I personally like it "garden style." Pour into a jug with a handful of mint and chill. Great rejuvenating drink after a long day in the sun!
Comment: Not to sound like a lush, but . . . this is a wonderful nighttime unwinder. It also helps get you through the dark ages of Vermont winter! At least three months needed before enjoyment.
2-3 pounds strawberries, ripe as can be without being bruised
Zest of 1 lemon
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar, maple syrup or honey
6 cups vodka
Place berries and lemon zest in gallon glass jar. Slowly dissolve sugar over low heat in saucepan with 1 cup water. Remove from heat. When cool, pour over the berries and fill the jar with water to eliminate air space. Place this in a cool, dark spot; let sit and try to shake once daily for 1 month. If you can, wait three or four months before tasting for sweetness - the flavor will be more pronounced. At tasting, depending on your personal tastes, you can add more sugar as needed. Now wait another two to three months and decant the liqueur. At this point, you can finally enjoy your efforts. This warming drink will keep for up to three years.
Rya Kaiding, Bartender at Smokejacks, Burlington
Rya's Berry &Rhubarb "Daisy"
Berry Vodka:Puree 1 pint of raspberries and strawberries in a blender. Strain. Add to a 750-milliliter bottle of vodka. Mix and let sit for 3 days.
Rhubarb Ginger Syrup:Chop three stalks rhubarb and place in blender. Add a thumb-sized piece of ginger. Bring 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water to a boil. Pour the syrup over the rhubarb and blend until smooth. Strain.
Strawberry Puree:Puree 1 cup strawberries in a blender.
To assemble the drink:Fill a glass with ice. Add 2 ounces berry vodka, 1 ounce strawberry puree, and 2 tablespoons rhubarb ginger syrup. Shake and top with soda water. Garnish with crystallized ginger and a fresh strawberry.