Ralph Sherman’s strawberries are done for the year. All his plants are June-bearing, they fruit once a year for two weeks or so. Ralph will tell you he likes June-bearing plants better than ever-bearing plants. Though the latter offer three harvests annually and the berries are just as tasty, the yields are smallish. Ralph prefers to concentrate his picking. It may just be that he got in the habit. In any event he’s done now, his freezer is stocked with 43 pints of hulled berries. As always, he made sure to get to them before the mice and chipmunks did. “Did you consider making jam?” we ask him; he laughs. He doesn’t like cooking. He never has. That was Ethel’s department.

All but the very young will remember buying Ethel’s jams and pickles from Ethel’s Kitchen, the stand she and Ralph manned at the West Tisbury farmer’s market for years and years. She made gallons and gallons to sell over 20 some years selling on Saturdays. The preserving, Ethel would make clear, was her third career (at least). She didn’t get into it until after she retired. But it worked out nicely. Ralph likes to grow but not to waste and once they got started at the market he could plant all he could manage then she’d put it up. In the end they made her many customers happy.

Bursts of red sweetness; strawberries are a bite of nature's candy. — Albert O. Fischer

Of course times change. Ralph, now 84, spends summer Saturdays at home. Ethel died in 2014 and he prefers to pass his weekend quietly. Life and age have slowed him down you might think, that is until you visit and take a look at his well-organized, perfectly cared for, absolutely beautiful garden, currently going full throttle. Drop by and he might even part with some beets or summer squash, the objects of his attention now he is done with strawberries.

Which brings us back to those red berries. They taste so much better when you grow them yourself or buy them from someone who does. Sadly, it’s now been over two weeks since the last of the June-bearing crop disappeared. But take heart, it won’t be long until the ever bearing varieties are ripe. We are planning already — to eat some out of hand, some on pretty plates with honey and herbs, some piled onto sweet biscuits, topped with whipped cream, and if we have any left, to make jam with the rest. Unlike Ethel, we’ll opt for the freezer variety because it is really easy: just cook berries, sweetened to taste, until they are falling apart, then store the jam in jars in the refrigerator or in the freezer in plastic containers.

Chris Fischer is chef at The Covington restaurant in Edgartown. His 2015 Beetlebung Farm Cookbook won a James Beard award for American cooking. Catherine Young collaborates with him on writing and recipes.

Video by David Henry Gerson; the third in a series of short videos about Beetlebung Farm.


Strawberry shortcake recipe

Serves 4

This is a useful recipe. If you are between strawberry harvests or looking to change it up consider making this comforting dessert with blueberries, blackberries, raspberries or sliced peaches instead. Looking beyond shortcake, this biscuit recipe is a keeper. Follow it as written to serve at breakfast or omit the sugar for savory biscuits which are great for dinner.

 

For the biscuits:


1 cup flour
½ tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
Small pinch of salt
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup cream
1 egg, beaten

 

For the filling:


1 pound strawberries, trimmed
About 1 tablespoon sugar
About 1 tablespoon water
⅓ cup cream, softly whipped

 

Prepare the biscuits. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl. Using your fingers, work the butter into the dry mixture, then add the cream, Stir just until the mixture comes together. Turn the dough onto a flour-dusted surface. Form it into a ball then roll it out about an inch thick. Fold it in half, and then roll again to 1 inch. Cut circles, then arrange them on a baking sheet. Brush the top of the biscuits with beaten egg and bake until they rise, about 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake until the biscuits are golden, about 10 minutes more, and then allow the biscuits to cool

 

Make the filling. Divide the strawberries in half, reserving the most beautiful to add serve raw. Chop the less pretty strawberries then put them in a saucepan. Add a tablespoon of sugar (more if the berries are tart) and a tablespoon of water. Cook the berries over medium-high heat until they are soft, about seven minutes. Set the compote aside to cool.

Quarter the reserved lovelies. Then assemble the shortcakes, halving the biscuits then topping with a layer of compote, a layer of whipped cream, and finishing with quartered berries.

Recipe adapted from The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook.