I love this time of year. Summer is just around the corner. The days are growing longer again with the promise of afternoon weekend BBQs and warm evenings dining al fresco in our future; lingering at the table with family and friends while enjoying the plentiful bounty this season brings.
I know we are on the tipping point when I begin to see fresh local strawberries at farmers’ market. Their presence heralds the start of summer fruit with cherries, plums, apricots, and peaches soon to follow.
Because of our temperate California weather this fruit is widely available throughout the year thanks to commercial growers, although the hard, tasteless specimens often found in stores during winter run a poor second to the late-spring berries showing up at market. Unfortunately, strawberries also top the “dirty dozen” list of foods most contaminated by pesticide residue, so definitely choose to buy organic.
Currently, you’re likely to find two main strawberry varieties at our local Farmers’ Markets: Seascape, developed at UC Davis, a productive “everbearing” variety yielding large berries with excellent flavor, and Chandler, a more delicate berry prized for its tender, juicy texture and old-fashioned classic taste. Both are excellent so personal preference will dictate your favorite.
When choosing berries, smell and taste are the best indicators of quality. Whenever possible, ask to sample before buying. Examine the underside of berry baskets for bruised or damaged fruit that can indicate spoilage.
Ideally, strawberries should be eaten fresh for maximum flavor. If you need to store them, layer unwashed berries between paper towels in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Do not wash strawberries until you are ready to eat them, as excess moisture will promote mold growth.
The simple pleasure of biting into a perfectly ripe strawberry is hard to beat. They are fabulous fresh-picked from the field or garden and enjoyed unadorned at room temperature, or dressed up a bit as sauce, in pie, or as a sublime ice cream.
One of my favorite ways to showcase the bounty of tasty berries is in old-fashioned homemade ice cream. This simple recipe will make you the envy of your neighborhood, delighting friends and family alike all summer long.
FRESH STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM
*Roasting the strawberries intensifies their flavor in this ice cream.
Ice Cream Maker
1 pint fresh organic strawberries
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (I use Meyer Lemons when available)
1/8 tsp. sea salt
2 1/2 cups organic half & half (I prefer Strauss Creamery brand)
Wash, hull, and slice strawberries. Add 1/4 cup of the sugar and toss gently. Place in a small baking dish and bake in oven at 375 for 10 minutes until slightly soft. Set aside to cool. Combine berries and lemon juice in a food processor and purée. You should have slightly more than 1 cup of purée. Whisk purée, remaining sugar, sea salt, and half & half together in a bowl. Pour into an ice-cream maker, freezing according to manufactures instructions. Heavenly!