Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Vibrant Summer Colours

Strawberry season on the West Coast is short.

But very sweet.

I made a vow a few years ago that I would not eat strawberries outside of June, and for the most part, I have stuck to that promise. Sounds drastic, right? But once you've tasted a local strawberry - you'll understand why the 10.5 month wait is worth it. Many of the strawberries available year round are enormous and lack the true panache of flavour a strawberry in June has. First of all - it's not even red on the inside! And the flavour is so watered down...I feel bloated after eating a handful and only barely tasting 'strawberry'. But a local strawberry is small and so, so, so red. On the outside and the inside. These little jewels are only available at their peak for about 6 weeks (max) and during those precious 42 days I eat as many as I can - usually burning out by the end from tasting too much fruit!

This year I did my annual pick in the local fields and came back with 10lbs. And a plan = jam, sorbet, bake, freeze and eat. All in that order too. I should note that I understand why strawberries can be expensive - they are extremely difficult to pick! Unlike blueberries which grow on very comfortable waist-to-shoulder high bushes, strawberries are grown on small shrubs really, I mean they're more like leafy hedges actually - but you have to squat to get them. Yes, squat. Low. In the sun. For hours. And then paw your way through the dirt, through the leaves and vines to get those precious berry gems. I've learned to carry a small paring knife to pick the berry by the stem and not crush the fruit off the stem with my fingers. My friends laughed at my when they saw my "set up" - a big plastic box lined with a tea towel for end-of-row storage and a smaller cardboard carry-along for my picking. Every 15 minutes or so I'd empty my cardboard box into the bigger one to be weighed at the end. The tea towel cushions the berries and provides a barrier from the hard and hot plastic. Once you get them home - you must "deal" with them right away. 5 lbs were gently rinsed and put in a large pot for jam. Another 2lbs were also rinsed and put in a smaller saucepan to make my sorbet reduction. The remaining fruit was distributed between baked good, the freezer and my tummy :)

(1 3/4 cups juice, 3/4 cup syrup)

I decided this year to reduce the strawberries over heat to really extract as much pure flavour as I could. Normally I would blitz them in a blender and then strain it - but I really wanted a more complex and bold strawberry flavour. It took a while, but it was worth it - let the berries cook and release their juice. Their ripeness was perfect and in no time I had a saucepan of red juice. I strained it and let it cool.

I mentioned before that you need a sugar syrup for the sorbet - so I used the leftover ginger-infused syrup and the combination was simply divine. Really very refreshing and bold - exactly what I needed to keep me motivated to wait those next 10.5 months.

June 2012 can't come soon enough!!

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