Strawberries when ripe are impossibly sweet. Sample a fresh strawberry, from a farm stand or better, right off the bush and you’ll wonder why you’ve been settling for the out of season ones all winter long. Attempting to grow strawberries in New Jersey growing up was a failure. Apparently the local wildlife was also pretty keen on fresh strawberries so if we wanted to have any for ourselves, we’d have to pick them slightly under ripe. Otherwise there would be nothing left.
The first time I had a real fresh strawberry was in Ireland. We were staying with my stepfather’s family in Newcastle and there was a farm stand on one of the main “highways”. Really it was a small table with some boxes of strawberries on a long country road. Purchases were by the honor system. You’d grab a small container and leave the money in the box beside it. If you went at daybreak the table would be overflowing, but just a few hours later the table would be bare.
The combination of strawberry and rhubarb is nothing short of genius. Food needs to be balanced–salty, sweet, spicy, tart. The combination of sun warmed fresh strawberries and blood-red crisp rhubarb is the ultimate combination of sweet and tart. For me , it’s the perfect dessert. I LOVE dessert and would never skip it if I could. BUT, I’m also not a fan of super sweet things. I stay away from many pies, often laden with extra sugar. While a small square of dark chocolate is perfectly satisfying, I want nothing to do with milk chocolate. Strawberry rhubarb pie is pretty much my ideal dessert. But of course, its something only so perfect in season. A strawberry rhubarb pie in winter, filled with California strawberries and rhubarb from who knows where just isn’t the same. When I can’t enjoy something fresh year round, I preserve it. And my beloved pie now takes the form of jam.
With June comes berries. First the strawberries trickle in, slowly followed by blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and cherries. By mid July we’re practically swimming in berries–certainly not a bad problem to have. But as quickly as they arrive, bursting from every stand at the greenmarket, they soon disappear, leaving us with regret. Wishing we had just one more piece of strawberry shortcake, another bite of that raspberry cobbler or another scoop of blackberry sorbet. We try to fool ourselves with California berries during the winter months, but it’s just not the same. While we might not be able to get fresh local berries year round, we can preserve them. A jar of homemade strawberry jam is beyond perfection. You’ll never glance at those Welch’s jars again.