Thursday, June 19, 2008

Strawberries Slo-wly Come Into Season In Northwest

By A-P Hurd

If you grew up on the East Coast, strawberries are a sign that spring has finally arrived. On the West Coast, spring creeps along slower and steadier, and by the time we have hot enough weather for local strawberries, it’s full-blown summer. But this year, the West Coast spring has been slow to arrive, with only a dash of warm sunny weekend days. So it may come to pass that when we see our first strawberries at this year’s Farmers Market, they may coincide with the first warm blast of summer, like they do back east.

Those first local strawberries have an intensity of flavor that can’t be matched by the well-travelled grocery store variety. Like tomatoes, great flavor and texture... seem to be incompatible with travelling any distance at all. In fact, the best strawberries I’ve ever had are the almost-over-the-top-ripe ones picked at a berry farm, on my knees on the muddy matted hay that lines the spaces between the rows. They come home in shallow trays or pans, where the weight of even a few layers turns the bottom ones to juice. These summer strawberries are so small and red and ripe that you can mash them with a fork on a piece of toast and they taste instantly like jam.

What you’ll do with them when they hit the farm stand is a good question to ponder. It may even warm your heart under these interminable gray skies. Pie? Milkshake? Angel food cake and whipped cream? In my book, when it comes to strawberries, less is more. Strawberries, pink lemonade, ice and rum make a mean daiquiri (or strawberry slush for the kids if you omit the rum). Even more traditional, sliced strawberries sprinkled with sugar and mint and left to sit for an hour are perhaps the ultimate ending to a summer meal. The juice that comes out in the bottom of the bowl tastes more like concentrated strawberry than anything in the world. If Patrick Süskind’s character Jean-Baptiste Grenouille had made essence of strawberry in the book Perfume, this is how he would have done it.

If you’re hankering for the red berries of summer, you could do worse than to start your weekends at the Phinney Farmers Market, which began this year on May 16. Or go fetch some right and ripe out of the field. A great website to find pick-your-own farms in the area is WAnortheast.htm Eat ’em while they’re here. Strawberries are a testament to the pleasure of eating local, and a scrumptious connection to this place and time of year.

[This post is from the current edition of the Phinney Ridge Review]

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