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. Here's the recipe.

 

Susie Middleton