There is much to love about summer. The endless sunshine, weekends spent camping or lazing on the beach. Picnics in the park or evening strolls around the seawall. If pressed, it would be hard for me to say what my favorite part of summer is, but I suspect I would say the fruit. Cherries, blueberries, nectarines and plums … I love them all. Mostly, though, I adore strawberries.
Yesterday, I spied local strawberries at my neighborhood market. I had been buying California strawberries for a couple of months now, but when I saw the familiar green baskets with the small ruby red berries, my heart gave a couple of extra beats. The California strawberries are okay. Sometimes they’re even good. But nothing can compare to our local, in-season strawberries. They’re small, relentlessly juicy, and bursting with that sweet strawberry taste that needs no sugar or other adornment.
I took them promptly home and made strawberry shortcakes. I was also reminded of the days when I was a child and we’d go strawberry picking to one of the farms on the outskirts of the city. Whether you live in Vancouver or one of the suburbs, you can drive in any direction and be in the countryside sooner rather than later. The whole family would pile into the car, each holding a big white bucket, and we would spend the whole afternoon rummaging through row after row of strawberry patches, until out backs ached and our hands were stained so red that we looked as though we’d had a serious accident.
Truth be told, I didn’t think much of the actual act of strawberry picking; my disdain for the dirt and the bugs were a foreshadowing of my future city girl ways. But I did love the aftermath of these jaunts out to the farm. I would gorge on those berries to my heart’s content. We weren’t the kind of family to have dessert after every dinner, but suddenly my mother was making cobblers and shortcakes and a strawberry jam that was so runny I used to spoon it by the ladleful over bowls of vanilla bean ice cream as a sort of impromptu sauce. The jam was a bright, fresh red, not too sweet, and to this day it’s still the best strawberry jam I have ever tasted.
Tasting those local strawberries yesterday, I made a resolution to get myself out to a berry farms one of these weekends. Maybe even learn how to make my mother’s jam. I’ve been trying to eat seasonally and locally as much as possible for awhile now. What better way to connect to my food and the earth than doing some strawberry picking of my own?
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”
Makes 10-12 biscuits
The biscuits in this recipe are made with yogurt, the best way to get a tender and flaky crumb. I use French Vanilla to add a bit of sweetness, but regular yogurt will do. You may also use buttermilk as a substitute. If you have neither, use milk instead and add 1 extra teaspoon of baking powder and omit the soda. For an even softer biscuit, try cake flour instead of all-purpose flour.
for the biscuits
2 cups all-purpose or cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons cold butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons yogurt or buttermilk
1) Preheat the oven to 450F. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl or food processor. Cut the butter into small pieces and combine with the dry mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. The butter should be thoroughly blended with the flour.
2) Add the yogurt or buttermilk and combine until the mixture forms a ball. Do not over blend. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead no more than 10 times. Add a bit of flour if it is too sticky to handle.
3) Press the dough into a 3/4 inch thick rectangle and cut into 2-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter or a glass. Put the rounds on an ungreased baking sheet. Gently reshape the rest of the dough and cut again.
4) Bake for 7-9 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown. Do not over bake.
For the filling:
5 cups sliced strawberries
3 tablespoons sugar
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1) Toss the strawberries with 2 tablespoons sugar and allow to sit while you whip the cream.
2) Whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Slowly add 1 tablespoon sugar and the vanilla. Whip for 1 more minute.
To serve, cut the biscuits in half and fill them with the strawberries and fruit. The shortcakes are best when the biscuits are fresh.