It is early July, and peak strawberry season in Connecticut is winding down. Farm markets have been bursting with baskets of fragile red berries, this being the only time of year when it is really worth eating these little delicacies.
Strawberries and rhubarb are a classic spring time combination, and a gorgeous execution of this was found recently on the seasonal tasting menu at Gramercy Tavern http://www.gramercytavern.com , a ceviche of tiny scallops made with rhubarb juice and perfect, sweet red strawberry chunks.
Recently, one farm market had dozens of baskets lined up like a little Red Army, some of them full of shapely berries with a slight orange hue, others a potent maroon, probably from two separate patches planted with two separate varieties. The choice to come to this home was the maroon beauties.
A happy memory of living in New Jersey (The Garden State) was picking strawberries at Stultz Farm http://www.stultsfarm.com , wisely planted with sequentially ripening varieties. Every year, a small, exquisitely sweet berry was among them. Sadly (not so sadly for myMEGusta, who got more of the superior berries), most consumers went for the larger, less fragile, easier to pick type.
It is unclear where strawberries originated, as they have history both in the Western Hemisphere and Europe/Africa before Columbus sailed to the New World. Both natives share the same genome, but manifested very differently over time.
Cultivated in Europe since Roman times, the strawberry we know and love today was bred in Brittany, France, in the 18th century, a cross between a native European variety grown locally and Chilean beach strawberries.
Of course, strawberries are among the most photogenic of fruits, and therein lies a problem. Their beauty can be part of breeding that turned them from a succulent treat to Styrofoam monsters arriving by air. So, you have to be a little skeptical when they show up on a menu, no matter how wonderful the dish, way, way off season. That’s not to say it is impossible to get a good one flown in; it’s just unlikely, as the tough guys are among the prettiest and least flavorful.
But, they make for wonderful photo ops all around the world in markets, whether Canada or South America or Europe or a nearby park on farm market day. A memorable dessert in Grenoble, France, was a simple plate of berries garnished simply with crème Chantilly (lightly sweetened whipped crème fraiche) at Pere Gras, a restaurant at a hilltop fortress, “La Bastille” with a view of the entire valley.
In Europe, you’ll sometimes also find the old fashioned ‘fraises de bois’, woodland strawberries, achingly sweet and the size of your pinkie.
A few years ago, myMEGusta encountered perfect, fresh peas and strawberries in street markets all over Helsinki, Finland. Her freshly purchased strawberries drew envious glances from other diners at the otherwise pedestrian hotel breakfast buffet. The berries were within their grasp, a block away…