Strawberries are here. About time, right? I do feel like this harvest season has been a bit off. Usually I’m able to find a couple of farmers selling fresh local strawberries by Memorial Day. Though this year it seems that last weekend was the first opportunity. Luckily, they’re a fruit that linger. I can recall still getting strawberries after July 4th last year in my CSA.
The other day while making strawberry rhubarb jam, I had a bit of a problem. A good problem. My strawberries were just too juicy. I’ve been using the same recipe for 3 years now, adapted from Preserving Summer’s Bounty. First macerate the strawberries in honey overnight. Then, mix together strawberries and juices, extra honey, lemon juice and rhubarb. Cook that down and you have jam, right? In this case, very wrong. At the stage that I should have almost reached the jellying stage, I was instead left with somewhat of a strawberry soup. A deep, rich red broth with the occasional strawberry or hunk of rhubarb bobbing up and down.
I’ve never made gazpacho. I’m not even 100% convinced I really like it. But it’s a soup, and I love soup. And it’s socially more acceptable to eat in the summer compared to a rich cream of whatever vegetable blend. So it was settled. This year I would make gazpacho. But it couldn’t be a bland, ordinary version. I needed something different, something vibrant that would push me over the wall into “I love gazpacho” territory. For my husband’s birthday we dined at Traif for the first time. After what seemed like hours to choose our selection of tapas-style small plates, we were greeted by a sake glass filled with icy strawberry gazpacho. It barely touched my lips and I knew. I was making this soup.
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.
Somehow I never tire of strawberries and rhubarb. Every trip to the greenmarket means at least 2 quarts of strawberries and a few pieces of rhubarb. This week alone we ate 4 quarts (ATE not canned), and the week isn’t over yet. Remember there’s only two of us. I make sure I get some of the first strawberries I can find and probably end up with some of the last. For at least a month, when strawberries are bountiful, it’s like no other food exists.