June 19, 2015

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Dear friends,

I’m feeling smug this week with six quarts of local strawberries in my refrigerator. Actually five, because I used one Saturday to make strawberry shortcakes with preserved ginger.

This week is the peak of strawberry season in Northeast Ohio, farmers say. Although the berries at some farms I checked are smaller than usual, most farmers report normal to larger-than-normal berries and crop.

In fact, get ready for all kinds of local fruit and vegetables in abundance this summer. The rain came at just the right time to jump-start the growing season, and if the sun comes out soon, most local farmers should harvest bumper crops.

“I think the garden crops are going to be very vibrant because of all the rain we’ve gotten,” says Karen Whiting, owner with husband, Dan, of Sunrise Farm near Burton in Geauga County.

After a winter of root vegetables and a frigid spring with trucked-in fruits, the strawberries I picked last week taste vibrant, all right. Although Florida and California berries have improved in flavor in recent years thanks to new hybrids, nothing can compare to a local strawberry.

I arrived at a nearby pick-your-own farm plastered with bug spray and wearing Muck Boots, the proper way to wade through the muddy rows after days of rain. While pitifully equipped dilettantes nearby quit after a quart or two, I kept picking until my back reminded me that I was 65 and out of shape. But I had my berries.

Back in the kitchen, I knew I didn’t want to gussy up the strawberries too much. The flavor was too pure and luscious to cloak in a sauce or bake in a cake.  Adding finely chopped candied ginger to the shortcake batter would be enough, I thought. And it was.

These tender, scone-like shortcakes are loosely based on a recipe in “Biscuit Bliss” by James Villas.
SHORTCAKE BISCUITS WITH CRYSTALLIZED GINGER

DSCN1481-001

•    1 cup self-rising flour
•    2 tbsp. sugar
•    4 tbsp. chilled butter, cut in bits
•    1 tbsp. finely chopped crystallized ginger
•    2 1/2 to 3 tbsp. water
•    1 egg

Combine flour and sugar in a bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until the lumps are the size of small peas. Stir in chopped ginger. Add egg and sprinkle water over mixture, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. Knead several times on a floured work surface.

Roll out dough to ½-inch thickness on a floured surface. Cut into six 2-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter, gathering and rolling out scraps. Space evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes or until the tops are browned.

Split shortcakes in half horizontally with a fork and place one on each dessert plate. Top with sliced and sugared strawberries. Makes 6 servings.

TIDBITS

If you’re stumped about where to pick strawberries – or blueberries, green beans, sugar-snap peas, tomatoes, etc. – head for the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Ohio Proud website at http://www.ohioproud.org/searchmarkets.php.

The site’s search function allows you to search by county, food product and whether you want to pick your own or just buy. I like the clickable boxes that allow you to choose farm markets, farmers’ markets or farm stands. For the uninitiated, farm markets are attached to a farm. Farm stands are not, and farmers’ markets, of course, are gatherings of many farm market stands.

Now that my strawberries are in the fridge (and soon in the freezer), I’m looking forward to local sugar-snap peas, which should be ready to pick next week, according the folks at Boughton Farm in Copley Township.

MAILBAG

From Annie Fry:
The arugula responses last week brought to mind a couple of arugula dishes I enjoyed in Luxembourg a few years ago.  While living there I got to know a chef who ran a storefront cooking school in the city. His recipe for arugula salad is so easy it is ridiculous. To dress a salad of baby arugula, mix a generous amount of Dijon mustard with heavy cream and toss with the leaves. It is less fat than using oil and is a spicy bit of decadence. As for arugula on pizza, I had a carpaccio pizza topped with raw thinly sliced beef, shaves of Parmesan and a generous handful of the greens and it was delicious.

Dear Annie:
I had a similar pizza in Italy that I still crave. Love the idea of cream and Dijon as a salad dressing. Thanks.

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