They're out there! Bursting through the black-dirt fields with a red-lipped lusciousness that only a woman as brazen as Mother Nature could muster or afford. Folks…I’m talking about strawberries if you haven’t guessed yet! To get your own skip the grocery stores at this time of year! Drive and you won’t have to drive far the Florida Strawberry Season is upon us and in full swing! We often go to the town of Homestead and Knauss Berry Farms for ours but truly many places in Florida will work this time of year. You will be rewarded with a day where you can, if lucky, re-visit your childhood and pick your own brimming basket of sun-ripened strawberries.
I remember my earliest experiences picking our own. Our Mother would drive us to a “U-Pick” farm not very far from our Illinois home. We’d join other families in a kind of controlled foraging of the fields cared for by generations of family farmers there. I also cannot escape the memory of the mosquitoes that came after us those muggy mornings near the Wisconsin border. Do you remember when you were a child and you watched as a mosquito sunk its sticker in you and drew your blood? I remember thinking, “How outrageous!” and smacking that little sucker so dead that re-incarnation would be unlikely for it! Today I might find myself confessing to the dead insect drying on my arm: “I try to be Buddhist like when I can but you crossed a line when you came near my collected strawberries.” As a child I suffered less of those moments of introspective evaluations
In the mid 1800’s in the United States, there were only about 1,400 acres of cultivated strawberries. That ain’t much. Barely a drop in a bucket. The reason for this is they were growing so abundantly in the wild that no one bothered. Strawberries were originally native to the New World (probably Peru). Yet it was after a trip abroad and being handled by some of the greenest thumbs of Europe that the strawberries we know today truly came into the orb of greatness.
Florida and California are the two biggest producing states of strawberries. I am actually on the Florida Strawberry Grower’s Association Chef’s Advisory Board. We hauled some of our state’s berries up to Iowa last year so I could demonstrate a few recipes to national magazine writers’ how to enjoy them in various ways. My Ancho-Strawberry Barbeque Sauce was a favorite!
Yet there is nothing that can compare with strawberries that are perfectly ripe and still holding the sun’s sweetness. I prefer having strawberries that have not been refrigerated, only slightly cooled is best. One of my favorite combinations is strawberries with a little balsamic vinegar and sour cream. You can slice the berries if you like for more exposure to the other two ingredients. Another way I’m getting my love of the red beauties is in a goat’s milk and strawberry beverage made by the folks at “Coach Farm” in New York. If you are going to buy a berry that has traveled a long road this is one of the best ways to go about it. Above of all I love my wife, Janet’s “Strawberry-Lemonade Jam.” That is a secret recipe. Let Iowans find their own!
RECIPE FOR FLORIDA STRAWBERRY-ANCHO ASIAN PLUM SAUCE
This is a unique barbeque sauce I created for the Florida Strawberry Grower’s Association. It is surprising to use strawberries in this way but their sweetness is not entirely different than that of tomatoes and I am convinced you will like it when our berries are in full bloom here.
Yields: 1.5 quarts
- 4 ancho chilies, stem and seeds removed
- 1 quart of water
- 12 cloves of raw garlic
- 1 ¼ Cups Asian plum sauce
- 3 Tablespoons Spanish sherry wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 Tablespoon cracked black pepper
- One pound of fresh Florida strawberries, washed, hulled and thinly sliced.
Toast the ancho chilies in a dry skillet until fragrant. When they are cool chop them or cut them with a scissors into pieces.
Put the garlic into a quart and one half of water with the chilies, and bring to a medium-high boil and reduce them until the water is almost gone.
Place the chilies and garlic mix into a processor and pulse until smooth. Add the plum sauce, vinegar, salt and pepper.
Process this in a blender or food processor.
Gently fold in the sliced strawberries. Return the mixture to a saucepan and heat through.
Reserve until needed. Use as you would a barbeque sauce.