"Sixteenth-century author William Butler wrote this tribute to the strawberry: 'Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.' Red, juicy and conically shaped, the strawberry is a member of the rose family and has grown wild for centuries in both the Americas and Europe. In general, the flavor of the smaller berries is better than that of the larger varieties since the latter are often watery."According to James and Kay Salter in their book 'Life is Meals' strawberries were very familiar to Romans and were thought to have healing powers. They note that the French philosopher Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle (what a name!) ate them daily when they were in season and attributed his longevity of 100 years to them. That's a powerful berry! Strawberries are low in calories and rich in vitamin C, potassium and some iron.
Strawberries are almost always lucrative for the small farmer because they offer some of the highest cash return to farmers even though the berry demands some tedious handwork to grow. Russ Parsons in his book 'How to Pick a Peach', reminds us that,
"It wasn't so long ago that strawberries were a food you anticipated all through the winter and then gorged on in a brief frenzy that was a ritual of spring. Today it's a year round garnish, the parsley of the breakfast plate."
He offers a solution...one we know. Buy locally grown food in season! Our ancestors knew this. It worked. In our desire to have everything all the time we have sacrificed the truly flavorful small farm berry for the big farming and transportation industry. Here are some suggestions for storing strawberries. The fruit is fragile and not chilling them will lead to rapid spoilage. If you don't eat them the same day you pick them or purchase them from your local market, transfer them to a plastic bag lined with a paper towel and refrigerate them. Don't rinse strawberries until you're ready to use them. I learned that the hard way! All that moisture will speed decay.
Here are some recipes from a period in time when we only ate locally grown strawberries. These recipes are over 100 years old and must have been well loved because of the wear and tear on the recipe cards they are printed on. At least they are different from the typical jellies and jams we are used to today!
2 quarts strawberries
3 lbs. sugar
Boil fruit 5 minutes
Remove fruit and cook syrup until thick, then put fruit in and cook up.
Well. Good luck with that. Chances are that if you lived during this time and within this particular family framework you saw women make this year after year and knew what the phrase 'cook up' meant! A conserve generally means a combination of two or more fruits that is canned.
Take two eggs well beaten, one cupful of sweet milk, sifted flour enough to make a very stiff batter, two large teaspoonfuls of baking powder, a pinch of salt and as many strawberries as can be stirred in. Steam one hour and serve with a sweet, foamy sauce.
After steaming that for one hour, everyone in the vicinity will be 'sweaty and foamy'!
Put a cupful of tapioca in a quart of cold water; after soaking three or four hours, simmer it in a stew pan until it becomes quite clear; add the juice of one lemon, a pinch of salt and a cupful of sugar. Fill a dish half full of strawberries and pour the prepared tapioca over them. When thoroughly cold, decorate with whipped cream and a little strawberry jelly.
You can read all about the history of tapioca here. Foodtimeline is an excellent source of information for food researchers of all kinds!
Have ready a quart of nice, ripe strawberries, hulled and washed, sprinkle with a liberal quantity of sugar, mash, and the juice of an orange and let stand one hour on ice, and rub through a sieve. Whip the white of four eggs stiff, add the berries and beat until thick and smooth, line a dish with sponge-cake, fill with the whip, and garnish the top with whole berries which may be selected from the quart. Serve at once.
You really should serve the above creation at once before you collapse from exhaustion! That's a very physically involved recipe! Whipping four egg whites stiff by hand is not the easiest thing in the world to do - especially after you have rubbed the strawberries through a sieve by hand and you know you had to make your own 'sponge-cake' ahead of time! This was a special dessert.
And for the truly special...
Strawberry Ice Cream
1/2 cup hot water
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. orange juice
1 cup crushed berries
1/2 pint heavy cream
Crush strawberries. Mix with sugar and orange juice. Let stand 30 minutes. Steam until melted. Mix when cold and put in cream. In half hour stir.
I don't get it. I can only think that the marshmallows are what would be 'steamed' but I'm not sure. Making ice cream was an incredibly special treat because any kind of refrigeration or ice was not something to be wasted. It's a basic recipe written on a scrap of paper. Someone knew exactly what was meant to be done!
I hope you enjoyed these heirloom recipes from a time when life was simpler. We just ate what was available. If you scroll to the bottom of this blog you'll see a little 'widget' that tells you what is available in your part of the world right now! I have this wonderful book (too many books...whatever) about Mark Twain called 'Twain's Feast' by Andrew Beahrs. This is a book about Samuel Clemens' love of food. Food that was available where he was when he was there! What a concept. Beahrs writes,
"Saying that food is the essence of place can seem like a sentimental throwback, or like something we've totally lost. But here's the thing: it's still always true."I actually grew a few strawberries on my deck this year! I have a container garden for herbs mostly but I try to throw in a few veggies and fun things just to watch stuff grow. Anyway, here's a pic of the two strawberries we harvested before a deer decided to help herself to the rest of my plant. All my plants were off the deck to allow our building to be powerwashed and well...there are deer even in downtown Danbury!