Michelle Kobernick provides delicious recipes that can be used with strawberries.
Is there anything you’re not growing back here at this point?” my friend Amy Wise asks me, taking in the scope of my backyard garden. She and her husband are joining us for dinner on our patio tonight. She hasn’t seen it in a while, and my plants have really grown since her last visit.
“Probably not! But I do have something fantastic and new to show you,” I say, ushering her across my yard.
Amy is my friend and neighbor for more than 20 years now, and she’s always a good sport about going on my garden tours. She knows that this is my happy place, and that starting in spring through the end of fall, it’s likely where you will find me. It’s my pride and joy, and I love sharing it with people.
People are always surprised to find that my garden pots are filled with only things to eat or cook with, and nothing floral for a vase. That’s because the only flowers I’m interested in are the small ones that eventually mature into a tomato, pepper or eggplant one day. It never gets old to see a vegetable emerge from what was previously a small bud.
I grow a wide variety of herbs and vegetables and take pride in the fact that my landscape is mostly edible. I experiment every year by trying out new things, and this year is no exception. I’ve got a new type of eggplant, a mix of hot peppers and a beautiful assortment of heirloom tomatoes. I water, weed and feed them, willing their offspring into existence, until they’re ready to harvest. It’s so amazing to gather ingredients for dinner that are procured from your own yard.
I go garden crazy every summer, but this year my enthusiasm is reaching entirely new levels. I owe it to the planting of my first sweet fruit, strawberries, which are now the shiny new jewels of my backyard. “Aren’t they amazing?” I ask Amy, moving over some leaves so she could get a better view. She agrees, teasing me about the proud-parent persona I use to show them off. Just for that, I make her stop to be properly introduced to the new Anaheim peppers on our way back to the table.
I’m learning a lot from this new plant. I enjoy watching the blush-colored flowers morph into miniature strawberry buttons. I’ll never be a Chahi Ariel, the Israeli strawberry farmer currently holding the Guinness world record, but I have a feeling we regard the fruits of our labor with the same passion. His strawberry was confirmed and registered in February of 2022 as the heaviest on record. It makes me encouraged to know that the green and pale pink seeded nubs on my vines have so much potential in them. I have to believe that if an Israeli farmer in the Central District of Kadima-Zoran can grow a 289-gram strawberry on his family farm, then there is hope for me too. A girl can dream.
A Versatile Fruit
Even though I’m trying this out for the first time, strawberries have been cultivated worldwide for centuries, starting in France in the 14th century. Today, they’re available at grocery stores year-round, and seasonally if you are growing them or buy from farmer’s markets. Different varietals are ready for harvest at varying times throughout the season. Some have fruit early in June, others later in fall, and another type produces berries all summer long. As a chef, I have no shortage of ideas for what I plan to do with them.
They are best au naturel, bursting with red, and still warm from the sun. Their sweet aroma lets you know they’re ripe, making them impossible to ignore. Another simple way to enjoy them is in a bowl with cream. This classic dish, Strawberries and Cream, appeared at Wimbledon in 1877, and is still being served at the tournament today.
Strawberries can be blended into smoothies, added to salads or turned into desserts and jams. They’re easy to dehydrate on low heat in the oven sliced on a sheet tray, which extends their shelf life. Dried strawberries make a delicious quick snack, or can be reconstituted in cereal, ice cream, oatmeal or pancakes. Roasting them at higher temperatures concentrates their sugars, softens their texture, and creates a fantastic sweet and saucy topping for vanilla ice cream.
Making room for dessert, we moved our dinner dishes aside. I’ve impressed myself tonight by making strawberry shortcakes with some store-bought scones, strawberries, whipped cream and a sprig of my outside mint. Serving this as our last course feels special, knowing the hand I have in growing part of it. I smile, passing the tray around the table, trying to decide what I was happiest about on this beautiful night: being able to include some of my new backyard bounty or the joy of sharing it with such good friends.
Short-Cut Strawberry Shortcake
- 4 pre-made scones or angel food cakes
- Macerated strawberries
- Whipping cream
- Sprig of mint (optional)
Slice cakes horizontally. Top the bottom halves with equal amounts whipped cream and strawberries. Place the remaining half on top, and garnish with whipped cream, strawberries and mint sprig.
- 1 pound of ripe strawberries, tops removed and sliced
- 3 tablespoons of sugar
- 1½ teaspoons of lemon juice
Place sliced strawberries in a bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice and toss to coat. Let sit for several hours or overnight until berries release their juices. Enjoy alone or as a fruit topping. Serves 4-6.
- ¾ cup of heavy whipping cream
- ¼ cup of powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Place the whipping cream in a bowl. Start beating vigorously with a whisk, a hand or standing mixer until it begins to thicken. Stop to add the powdered sugar and vanilla. Continue beating on high until firm peaks form. Use immediately or store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Mix with a whisk to reintegrate the cream before using. Makes approximately 2 cups.
Roasted Strawberries (adapted from seriouseats.com)
- 2 pounds of strawberries, tops removed and hulled
- 1/3 cup of sugar
- 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla
- Sprig of mint (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 glass dish lightly with non-stick vegetable spray. Place the strawberries in the pan and add the sugar, lemon and vanilla. Mix until well coated and bake for 30 minutes until slightly softened, stirring once halfway through. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Serve warm over ice cream garnished with fresh mint. Makes approximately 3 cups.
Strawberries and Cream:
- 1 pound of ripe strawberries
- Heavy whipping cream
Wash the strawberries and remove the greens. Place the strawberries either whole or sliced into a serving bowl. Drizzle the desired amount of whipping cream over the fruit.
To secure premium berries, it’s best to choose fruit that is grown during the current harvesting season.
Look for berries that are fragrant and sweet smelling by testing them with your nose. They should be firm, bright and free of bruises or mold, with healthy greens on top.
Keep the strawberries whole. Do not wash until ready to use.
To store in the fridge, space them apart, greens down, on a sheet tray lined with a paper towel and covered with saran wrap.
For the freezer, remove the greens, rinse with water, and dry completely. Freeze the fruit in individual layers before storing them together.