This is a love letter to strawberries. Particularly, the ones that suddenly appeared on the farmer’s market table. Bright, juicy beacons of summer, blithely tumbled together in quaint little wood boxes, so different from their overgrown brethren, trapped in stifling plastic containers and shipped from California. Strawberries. Plump, juicy, tart and sweet strawberries. If asparagus is one of the first colorful foods we see here in the Midwest, those slender stalks of green leaping from the ground, the crimson glow of strawberries are a true herald of summer. Or, to be more fair, given the lust that ensues once these summery gems appear on market tables, they are basically their own Fragarian red light district, beckoning you to the delights of summer. (Yes, I had to look that up. They are of the Fragaria genus.)
In case I hadn’t mentioned it before, strawberries are my favorite food of all time. When this time of year hits, I snap up quantities bordering on obscene. I fantasize about one day having a yard, which would just be a carpet of strawberry plants. Jam always must be made, jars filled with glowing red sunshine lining my shelves, every year tweaking and pushing just a bit farther as I discover more about my beloved crimson berry.
This year is no different, but I decided to take it slow. I bought one pint. Just one, though it pained me. I rushed them home, plunked them down on the counter and gazed at them all moony-eyed. They do get their own Strawberry Moon , so I found it only appropriate. Even with imperfections here and there, a mild squish and bruise slightly marring the taught, luminous surface, they are still perfection. They cried out for a photo shoot, and so I obliged. No fanciness, no toppings, no seasonings, nothing but a pile and a carefully selected slice, carved with my finest paring knife. Nothing less would do.
And then, they were eaten. There is no recipe here. I grew up with the grand treat of slicing them, sprinkling them with sugar and pouring milk over them, which is still wonderful. I have been learning more about things that pair beautifully with the sumptuous strawberry, such as red wine, basil, and the magic of a splash of balsamic vinegar that somehow deepens and intensifies the flavor of this sumptuous fruit. But for this first grand basket, this first dive into the magic pool of summery fruit, I went commando. With the fruit, of course.
In the end, these are really early and they haven’t hit their full potential, which dampened my spirits ever so briefly. But they are hope. Hope of sunshine and fresh flavors and fruits and vegetables that actually have scent. Have you ever really smelled a strawberry? Find one at a local farmer’s market or farm stand. Stick it right up to your nose and breathe deeply, letting that sweet floral scent work all the way through your nasal passages. You will never get that from a cramped plastic box shipped from thousands of miles away. There will be more coming about strawberries. I have a few nefarious ideas. But for now, do yourself a favor. Hunt down a box of local, fresh strawberries. Don’t stick them in the fridge and wait to enjoy them, just rinse, pour into a bowl, and sit. Breathe deeply. And dive in. Sharing is optional.