My fingers are stained strawberry-red. I can’t help it; they’ve been that way pretty much since mid-June when, like clockwork, the first strawberries ripened in my garden, Morning Glory Farm started picking their fields, and the sign in front of Ghost Island Farm suddenly read “strawberries” in large letters, all on the same day.

Local strawberries will be riper, juicier and more flavorful than those shipped from afar and stored at cold temps. Susie Middleton

Along with the appearance of asparagus and peas in the spring and corn and tomatoes in high summer, the arrival of strawberries is one of the most anticipated local events of the growing season. Mostly it’s a flavor thing. A freshly picked strawberry is likely to be much juicier and riper—maybe red all the way through—than one picked and shipped from afar. And, it has never felt the chill of the refrigerator, which can dampen flavor. Strawberry varieties actually vary in flavor quite a bit –  some are citrusy, others floral (after all, strawberries are a member of the rose family)  – and each has a slightly different balance of acidity and sweetness.

But there’s also the thrill of hunting and gathering. Whether you’re visiting the farmers’ market or picking strawberries from your own back yard, it’s always exciting to get your hands on freshly picked berries.

If you have even a few square feet of protected garden space, you can plant some of your own strawberry plants and try some of the different varieties. My favorite is Ozark Beauty, an everbearing strawberry, which means it blossoms and fruits heavily in June and lightly again later in the summer. (Many strawberry varieties are June-bearing.) Albion is a variety known for being consistently sweet. Strawberry plants need a year to get established, but after that, they multiply like bunnies. There are a few ways to manage the growth, but you can also do like many Vineyard gardeners do and let your strawberry patch run amok for a few years. (Mother plants will produce less than new offspring.).

Once I’ve stuffed myself silly with freshly picked berries, I start to figure out other things to do with them in the kitchen. I love to make traditional buttery biscuits for shortcakes, and I always make homemade strawberry-vanilla ice cream every year. (When the strawberries start to wane, I make berry ice cream from the wild black raspberries that grow around the Island.) I also like to put strawberries in a salad with arugula, goat cheese, and roasted beets.

I used to shy away from cooking strawberries (other than for jam), but in developing recipes for my book Fresh From the Farm, I created a strawberry-rhubarb crisp, spiked with crystallized ginger and topped with a pecan cinnamon oat crumble, that forever changed that bias for me. I love this crisp so much that I have made it three times already this season. (Apparently my friends like it too, since all three batches have disappeared quickly and I swear I only ate some for breakfast once. Maybe twice.) I pass it along with an urgent message: eat strawberries now. There’s still a couple weeks left in this year’s season.

 

Susie Middleton

Gingery Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Serves 6

Sweet and tangy at the same time, this crisp has an intense flavor and an excellent crunchy topping. Be sure to cook it until the topping is nice and golden (about 45 minutes). I love to make this in a ceramic quiche dish or in a 2-quart oval gratin dish, but a 2-quart Pyrex baking dish will work too. Serve with vanilla ice cream. Feel free to make the crisp with other summer fruit.

 

For the topping

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, more for baking dish

1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup finely chopped toasted pecans

½ cup light brown sugar

½ cup oats

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¹⁄8 teaspoon cinnamon

¹⁄8 teaspoon ground ginger

 

For the filling

2 ½ cups quartered strawberries 

2 ½ cups thick-sliced rhubarb stalks  (cut 1/2-inch thick)

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

¼ teaspoon salt

Ice cream, frozen yogurt, or heavy cream for
serving (optional)

 

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Rub a shallow 2-quart baking dish or large ceramic quiche dish all over with a little butter.

2. In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients for the crisp topping and mix together with your fingers until well-combined into large “crumbs.”  

3. In a large bowl, combine the filling ingredients and mix thoroughly. Arrange the filling mixture in the baking dish and top evenly with the crisp mixture. (Arrange topping only one layer deep. If there is too much crisp topping for more than one layer, freeze the topping for another use.)

4. Bake the crisp until the topping is firm and golden, about 45 minutes. (The juices will have been bubbling around the edges for a bit.) Let cool for 15 to 20 minutes and serve warm with ice cream, frozen yogurt, or heavy cream.

 

Recipe by Susie Middleton, Fresh From the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories