By Jan Roberts-Dominguez Herald Columnist
Pity the people who only experience strawberries from faraway places.
Oh, sure, there’s a longer season if that’s the route you’re willing to take. Year-around, actually. But we all know the main problem with such berries: their bred-for-the-road sturdiness undermines what little pleasure one can derive from eating them.
But that’s not something you have to worry about. Indeed, the strawberry is one of Washington’s dearest commodities — the culinary equivalent to precious gems — because our berries have been bred for flavor, color and juiciness, not travel.
With a narrow window to accommodate your pent up hankerings for fresh, local strawberry treats, it would be unconscionable to ignore the moment. From simple to sublime, there are loads of ways to enjoy this sweet treasure.
So make the most of it while you can. I’m including some fresh-eating recipes to get you started, or perhaps to simply head you in a new direction in your ongoing search for ways to appreciate our wonderful berries while they’re available.
Of course, for most of us, a full-blown shortcake event is more of a special occasion than an everyday occurrence. Schedules and waistlines would suffer from such daily festivities.
But it’s the mini celebrations that really celebrate the fruit in all its sweet purity anyway. So this season I thought it would be fun to share some of the simple little strawberry treats that you can assemble in a moment’s time. For instance …
•Pile lightly sweetened strawberries (just a sprinkling of sugar) into bowls or goblets; squirt a bit of fresh lemon juice over each serving. You’ll find that the slightly sweetened lemon bath brings out the natural flavor of the berry.
•A Northern Italian specialty: Arrange a pint of rinsed and hulled strawberries on a pretty platter. Sprinkle on a bit of sugar, if desired, then drizzle a couple of tablespoons of very high-quality balsamic vinegar on top, garnish with sprigs of fresh mint, and serve.
•Sprinkle Grande Marnier over individual bowls of rinsed and hulled strawberries. Whisk together 2/3 cup sour cream and 1/3 cup heavy cream, then drizzle this on the bowls of berries. Garnish each serving with chopped pistachio nuts.
•Place a thick layer of caramel ice cream on the bottom of each dessert bowl. Arrange very ripe berries on top and cover with sweetened strawberry puree.
•Arrange rinsed and hulled strawberries in a pretty china bowl. Dredge with powdered sugar and pour over them freshly squeezed orange juice. Chill well.
•For a colorful compote, toss together halved strawberries, sliced peaches, and diced mangoes. Pour a sweet-style sauterne over them and chill well.
•Pour creme de menthe over strawberries and dust thoroughly with powdered sugar. Chill for an hour and serve with passionfruit pulp.
•For a summer garden party, chill white wine and lemonade together in a crystal pitcher. Garnish with sliced oranges, sliced strawberries and a few sprigs of lavendar.
Enjoy Pacific Northwest chef Cory Schreiber’s take on this wonderful dessert.
The key to a good shortcake (other than starting with great strawberries) is the biscuits themselves, which are best when taken warm from the oven and immediately split open to receive the strawberry compote.
If you prefer your shortcake without lemon and orange, just omit them and prepare the rest of the recipe as shown.
Wildwood’s strawberry-citrus shortcake
Sugared strawberries with Grand Marnier:
8 cups fresh strawberries, stemmed and sliced
1/4-1/3 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of berries
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons Triple Sec, Grand Marnier or orange juice
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 teaspoons grated lemon zest
4 teaspoons grated orange zest
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Sugar for coating (about 1/3 cup)
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
To prepare the strawberries: In a large bowl, combine the strawberries with the sugar, orange juice, and Grand Marnier (or orange juice). Marinate for 30 minutes to 2 hours.
To make the shortcake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cornmeal, sugar, and salt. Stir in the cream, lemon zest and orange zest until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a floured board. Form into a ball and knead 8 to 12 times, or until the ball holds its shape. Cut the dough into 8 equal portions and roll into balls. Roll the dough in the melted butter, then the sugar. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked through. Let cool slightly on a wire rack.
To whip the cream: Chill a large, deep bowl. Pour the cream into the bowl and add the sugar or honey and vanilla. Whip by hand with a whisk or with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. The finished consistency of the whipped cream should just hang from the edge of the whisk. The whipped cream is best if used immediately, but it can be refrigerated for up to 4 hours.
To serve: Cut each shortcake in half. Top the bottom halves with fruit and whipped cream. Place the top halves on top and serve.
Recipe from “Wildwood — Cooking from the Source in the Pacific Northwest,” by Cory Schreiber
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.