Fresh From the Farm by Katie Malich

The full moon at the end of June (it was June 26)  is called a Strawberry moon, because it is the full moon closest to the strawberry harvest. We’re lucky here in Southern California to have a climate mild enough so that strawberries can be grown year round. In other climates, though, there is a very short strawberry growing season. The farther north you go, the shorter the time period for local, non-hothouse strawberries. Given the fragrant sweetness of fresh summer strawberries, no wonder traditional farmers honored the short growing season with its own special moon designation.
Last June, I was traveling near the Canadian border, and a friend took me to a small local farm during strawberry season. The berries were incredible. Shortly later, a local church in town held a strawberry festival as a fundraiser, featuring both strawberry shortcake and strawberries and ice cream. Sadly, both the shortcake and the ice cream were disappointing as they were cooked with sugar to make a whole berry sauce before being ladled over the shortcakes and ice cream. These local June berries were perfect as picked; they really needed no cooking or added sugar. Luckily, the church was also offering baskets of fresh picked local berries, so we bought more to enjoy a California-style fresh strawberry shortcake at home.
Locally grown fresh strawberries are far superior to store-bought ones regardless of the latitude where you reside. Strawberries are a fragile fruit, prone to bruising, so they are often picked when still unripe when they are to be packaged and shipped long-distance. At the Culver City Farmer’s Market, however, you can find strawberries which have been allowed to ripen on the vine and are picked just before they are brought to market. You can taste the difference. As farmers market berries are picked at their peak, you can maintain their quality by refrigerating them once you return home. If you put them in a covered container in the refrigerator, you will protect them from cold refrigerator air.
Before it was acquired by the Tribune Company, the Los Angeles Times published a compilation of recipes from its food pages entitled The Seasonal Kitchen. The two strawberry desert recipes which follow are adopted from that publication.

Old-Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake
(6 servings)

Shortcake:

2 cups flower
heaping 1/2 c. sugar
heaping 1 tablespoon baking powder
8 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
3/4 cup whipping cream
2 hard-boiled egg yolks, mashed
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

Filling:
2 pints strawberries, washed, hulled and cut into halves or quarters
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup whipping cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sift flour,  sugar and baking powder into bowl. Add chilled butter pieces. Work butter quickly and lightly into flour until mixture is consistency of very fine sand. Use your fingertips, not a utensil, for best results. Mix cream and egg yolks in small bowl, and then stir into dry ingredients. Use a fork to stir and work quickly until dough just comes together. Do not overmix.

Take dough out of bowl and place on lightly floured work surface. Knead briefly; a smooth dough will form. Again, work quickly and do not overwork the biscuit dough. Roll out dough so that it is 1/4 inch thick. Using floured 2 1/2 or 3 inch cookie cutter, cut out four rounds of dough. Gather scraps of dough, re-roll, and cut two more rounds.

Lightly butter a baking sheet, then place rounds on it. Brush the biscuit rounds with melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Bake at 375 for 12 to 15 minutes. Take biscuits out of the oven when they are golden brown and firm to the touch. Transfer to a cooling rack.

If you have not already prepared the strawberries and whipped cream, do so while the biscuits are baking. After washing, hulling and cutting the strawberries, place them in a bowl and toss with the sugar. Using a food processor, mixer or whisk, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate.

Let the biscuits cool on the rack for several minutes. While they are still warm but not hot to the touch, split them in half. Place the biscuit bottoms on desert plates. Top with the sugared strawberries and spoon whipped cream over the strawberries. Place the biscuit tops over the strawberries and whipped cream. If there is leftover whipped cream, you can serve it in a bowl along with the shortcakes. Serve immediately.

This recipe tastes best when served with fresh out-of-the oven biscuits. But each of the components can be prepared ahead of time and assembled just before serving.

Strawberry Desert Soup
(serves 6 adults)

1 bottle fruity red wine such as Beaujolais or a light Pinot Noir
3/4 – 1 cup sugar, or 2/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup granulated sugar substitute
1 three inch piece of vanilla bean
2 pints strawberries, washed and hulled
optional: vanilla ice cream

Combine wine, sugar, and sugar-substitute (if using) in large non-reactive metal bowl. Stir or whisk well until the sugar is dissolved. If you are planning to serve this with ice cream, consider using less sugar (or a combination of 2 parts sugar to 1 part granulated sugar substitute). If the strawberries are ripe and sweet, you probably won’t miss the additional sugar. If you prefer a very sweet desert, or if the strawberries are not drop-dead sweet, by all means use a full cup of sugar or sugar/sugar substitute. Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds into the mine mixture. Add the vanilla bean, too.

Cut the hulled strawberries into similar sized relatively large pieces, halving medium sized berries, quartering the largest ones and leaving the small berries whole. Add to wine mixture and refrigerate at least two hours to blend flavors. You may refrigerate the mixture overnight.

Serve by ladling strawberry/wine mixture into bowls. If desired, serve with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side, or drizzle mixture over larger scoops of vanilla ice served in bowls.

The Tuesday Culver City Farmers Market is held from 2 p.m. To 7 p.m. on Main Street between Venice and Culver Blvds.

Katie Malich will indulge in PG Tips tea with cream, accompanied by scones with strawberries and clotted cream at least once a year. She enjoys fresh hulled farmers market strawberries much more often.

www.culvercitysymphony.org

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