Ode to a Strawberry


So very much can happen in one month’s time, especially in the whirlwind that is summer.  First, I must report, and with glee, that we found a house and will close on it next week.  I was anticipating some anxiety around such a purchase and decision, some worry and maybe apprehension, but none of that has come to fruition.  Gladly we are stoked, absolutely ready and rearing to go.  The house, a big green ogre of a place, one hundred and one years old, needs some love and tenderness and then a bit of a makeover.  Can’t wait to sink our teeth into all of that.  (Be certain I won’t have much time to write a post in August, but I will get back to you when I can.)

Now, let’s get back to the strawberry.  Yesterday, a really splendid Saturday, Nate, Riley, and I went to one of my favorite you-pick farms outside of the Cities, Natura Farms, and harvested buckets of absolutely delicious strawberries.  Well, Riley picked then ate, picked then ate, her bucket clean as a whistle when we were done.  Natura doesn’t spray their crops, but care for them in a sustainable way, and they are always kind and welcoming, and have acres and acres of glorious food.  We picnicked by a nearby lake and just listened to the sound of nothing for a while.  Life is, indeed, good.

As well, this last weekend I wandered the St. Paul Farmers Market early on a Sunday and found that I had an opportunity to speak to the Hmong growers in more depth than usual.  The market is made up of more Hmong farmers and their families than any other group, yet they and their produce still remain a mystery.  I sometimes snag some of their greens or herbs, politely thank them, and then take them home and insert them into something I’m making.  But I’ve been really curious lately about how they eat them.  The difficulty is the language barrier and therefore the itimidation factor.  But last weekend I decided to be a bit more brazen and after I bought a really beautiful bunch of rich-colored pink and purple greens from a Hmong vendor who didn’t speak a single word of English, I found a young Hmong woman and asked if she spoke English.  She did, quite well, as I’m sure is due to her age, and asked her about these unusual greens.  Surprisingly, she didn’t know what to do with them, but was so nice and curious herself, that she left her stall, pulled me half way through the market and told me her mom, who was working another stall, would know just what to do with them.  Turns out the greens I bought are a rare, very short-season crop, and that they are used in the same way we would use spinach.  I loved this little discovery and meeting these nice women, who I think were really pleased to answer my questions, and proud.  (By the way, I stir-fried these gorgeous greens and they were so fantastic, bitter and spicy, nearly like a watercress.)

I must put in a plug here too for my upcoming classes this late summer and fall.  With each class I have more and more fun and find that I just love teaching and talking about real food with people.  I’m always trying to come up with clever class ideas and I hope you’ll join me for some of these:

Digging in to the CSA Box at Mississippi Market Co-op in St. Paul (Selby store) on September 30th, Wednesday, from 6-8pm.

Seasonal Suppers at Mississippi Market Co-op in St. Paul (W. 7th store) on October 7th, Wednesday, from 6-8pm.

Favorites from the Ballymaloe at Cooks of Crocus Hill on November 14th, Saturday, from 5-8pm.

(Please visit those websites to get more details and register for classes.)

Finally, there’s another food that I must mention in my post today and that is the raspberry.  My good friend Liz, who lives in Madison, was telling me she has quite a bit of them on her hands and what to do now.  I mentioned that quick, unusual preserve recipe from the late southern cook Edna Lewis, found in The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper.  Highly recommended, it goes like this:

Edna Lewis’s Sugared Raspberries

2 cups (about 1 pound) fresh, unblemished raspberries; 2 cups sugar

1. Carefully pick over the berries, removing any leaves, foreign objects, or spoiled berries.  Put the berries in a mixing bowl, and pour the sugar over them.  Use two large forks or a potato masher to mash the sugar into the raspberries until they are liquefied and no trace of whole berries is left.  (A blender is not good for this, because it will pulverize some of the berry seeds, which should remain intact.)

2. Transfer the mashed berries to jars and refrigerate for atleast 2 days before using.  Stashed in the refrigerator, these berries are manna from heaven in January.  Eat them straight by the spoonful or on bread, cake, or ice cream.