A plethora of strawberries

Strawberries have long been one of my favorite fruits. I remember every year for my birthday, I would beg my parents for a strawberry shortcake. I would then linger around the dining room table, waiting for the chance to steal the strawberries off the top. This behavior went on well into my college years.

However, over the last few years, I fell a bit out of love with strawberries. Any time I got them in the store, they were huge, but they were also white in the center, and not particularly flavorful. Sure, they were still good after they sat in sugar, and I drizzled them on top of a fresh slice of angel food cake. But they just didn’t taste how I remembered.

Then I discovered the joys of local strawberries. Last summer in my CSA share, I received a quart of strawberries. They were warm from sitting in the sun, and much smaller than their grocery store counterparts. I remember thinking, well….these are um…petite…. But sweet baby Jesus, the flavor was unparalleled. Those strawberries brought me right back to the delicious fruit of my childhood.

So over the last month or so, I’ve made it a point to take full advantage of strawberry season. Some got put up in the simplest way possible: I froze a few, for the occasional morning shake or quick sorbet. Others went away in good ol’ strawberry jam. But both my mom and I wanted to get a bit more creative this year. So this is what we came up with:

First, some strawberry jam with vanilla – take your strawberry jam recipe of choice, and just throw in a fresh vanilla bean that you have split and scraped (if you’re not sure how to do this, there are some great YouTube videos to help you out). It’s an incredibly simple variation, but it’s awesome. The flavor you get from the fresh beans goes perfectly with fresh berries.

Next up, strawberry rhubarb jam. I had a jar of this at the end of my winter CSA, and it was delicious. So when I saw that the strawberries were at the peak of their season, and the rhubarb stalks were the size of baseball bats, I jumped at the chance to make this treat. I followed a standard strawberry jam recipe, but used equal parts strawberry and rhubarb (my mom tried this jam last year, but we both agreed it need more rhubarb than just a few stalks in the pot). It’s also a good idea to let the rhubarb macerate in sugar overnight – it really softens it up and draws out those juices.

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For my next adventure, I found a recipe for strawberry rhubarb butter, on Food in Jars. I had never done a butter before, but it was amazingly simple.  Mix up your ingredients, stick it in a slow cooker, and let it go all day.

Your kitchen will smell fantastic, and you’ll get a few jars of butter with very little effort. Just keep in mind that you’re really cooking this down, so you’ll get lower yields than you would for jam. But trust me, it’s worth it.

Strawberry Rhubarb Butter

And as a side note, you can also make a strawberry vanilla butter using the same technique in the recipe above. Or, you can do what I did: I put a plain strawberry butter on a bit later in the day, and when I was ready for bed, it had thickened up, but not enough to be a true butter. Rather than let it go all night, which would have made it too thick, I just threw it in jars as-is. Voila, a thick strawberry sauce! I had some on pancakes the other morning, and all I can say is, strawberry sauce is the sh*t!

And finally, I made some strawberry leather using my dad’s dehydrator. You basically just add a fruit puree (which can be lightly cooked or entirely raw) to a fruit leather tray, and then wait until the leather is dry to the touch.

Fresh strawberry puree – this amount makes one tray of thin fruit leather

The yields are extremely low for the amount of strawberries I used; in the future it may be better to add some apple sauce to increase the volume. I’ll do a separate post later on about my new love of home-made leathers, but in the meantime, this article should get you started. It offers a great general technique for making all sorts of scrumptious fruit leathers.

There isn’t much time left in strawberry season – if you’re lucky enough to find some fresh ones, grab a few quarts and have some fun!

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