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Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar and Mint

Rural Intelligence FoodBerkshire native Alana Chernila, local politician, mother of two, and author of the new cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), dispenses change and cooking ideas at the Great Barrington Farmers’ Market. She shares her peak-of-the-season recipes with Rural Intelligence to help us make the most of what’s growing in the region’s farms, fields, and gardens. This week, Alana took her children to pick strawberries at Thompson-Finch Farm in Ancramdale, which, she says, “ really the place to go. Always.” Maybe not always, when it comes to the short-lived strawberry season, but at least into early July. For the occasion, Alana pulled this recipe (and its companion narrative) out of her archives.

Strawberries open fruit season in these parts, and with them comes one more moment to try to learn the fleeting nature of all things lovely. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a whole lot of moments for that — I seem to get a fairly regular kick in the butt with some form of that lesson. So, before we start, while we have this moment before kids with stained faces and aching post-berry bellies, before packed freezer bags of peaches and blueberries fill up the freezer shelves, before there is one more trip to the hardware store for canning jars, and before looking out over the mountains of fruit on the counter top at 10 p.m. that must be dealt with TONIGHT!, let’s just talk for a minute about the most important aspect of all this (in my humble opinion): that is, how to enjoy the fruit:

Rural Intelligence Food1. Remember that each berry and fruit has a small window of loveliness. Try to think ahead of time about what you might want to have at the end of the summer. Maybe you would like to freeze blueberries and peaches, but make strawberry and raspberry jam. There is a lot of fruit between here and October, and you don’t have to put up every single one.

2. If you are new to canning, but would like to try it this summer, do not go it alone, and do not embark on the project when it is 110 degrees. I say this from experience.

3. If you go picking, do your best to only pick as much as you can use. When surrounded by acres of perfect raspberries, it can be hard to stop filling your buckets, but you want to try to avoid crying in your kitchen at midnight because you have more berries than you could possibly deal with before next week. I say this from experience, too.

4. Okay, I know that as a Jewish woman partially raised by her depression-era grandmother, I seem to have a fair amount of guilt to contend with on a daily basis. I hope that you don’t, and I am happy for you if that is the case. But if you tend to bring guilt in where it doesn’t belong, this one is for you. When something is wonderful and short-lived, like strawberry season, enjoy it! But if life has gotten complicated and work is busy and it rained that Saturday you were planning on going picking, and lo and behold the strawberries are gone and you never made jam, then say Such is life! and move on. Guilt has no place here, so throw it out the window.

5. Whether you are picking fruit yourself, or buying local fruit at your farmer’s market or store, you know that you are in for some phenomenal snacks in these coming months. So, hooray! Let’s make tarts and jam and smoothies and ice cream and pie and muffins and whatever else we can think up.

But first, let’s eat strawberries.

Rural Intelligence FoodIf you have just gotten your first quart of strawberries this week, you know what I’m talking about. Gold, pure gold. You don’t want to cook these, because then you couldn’t taste the sun in them. These first strawberries are to be eaten raw, and they don’t even need a thing.

But if you are willing to branch out a bit, to add a touch of this and a touch of that, just to enhance their already perfect perfection, then pull out the vinegar. If you haven’t ever tried this, it may seem shocking, but stay with me for a minute here. A sprinkle of sugar and a drizzle of decent balsamic vinegar is magical for strawberries—you do not taste the vinegar, just more of the strawberries. It’s like strawberries-plus. I know! You thought they couldn’t get any better, but try it! A little bowl of this, and you can clink your forks to the start of fruit season.

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar and Mint

Serves 4-6

1 quart strawberries, hulled and sliced (don’t put them in the refrigerator!)
3 tablespoons of sugar, or more depending on your taste
1 teaspoon good-quality balsamic vinegar (they sell great bulk balsamic both at Bizalion’s and Nejaime’s)
1/4 cup mint leaves, chopped into fine ribbons

Toss the strawberries with the sugar. Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes. Drizzle the vinegar over the strawberries and add the mint leaves. Stir very gently. — Reprinted with permission from [1]. All text and photos copyright 2008-13 by Alana Chernila.

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Posted by Bess Hochstein on 06/05/12 at 09:01 AM • Permalink