We are really blessed that strawberries are the grand opening to the local growing season. Some may wax rhapsodic about asparagus (including me) or revere rhubarb (I still don’t get its appeal), but find me a person who doesn’t like strawberries and I’ll see someone without a soul. If you have actual allergies, I will give you a pass… I guess.
Last week on social media, a variety of our area strawberry farms shared that they’d soon be opening for the season — one of the best uses for our cultural time-wasters, in my mind. I tucked the bit of information with the intention to act.
My first chance came at the Saturday farmers’ market. Despite the Ball Hall induction fun happening one street over, the market was our first stop. At this time of year, a late morning visit means potentially missing out on limited supply items (who knew that Transvaal Farms offered Scotch eggs, for example?).
Turning into the market, the brilliant red sweep of Sheldon Berries’ table beckoned. Their scent hit me as I surveyed the scene. That undeniably sweet softness hit my nostrils and my mouth began to salivate with the possibilities.
My initial request for one quart quickly expanded to three. With all due respect to Ray Sheldon’s marketing skills, is there anything easier to upsell than perfectly fresh and fragrant strawberries?
That luscious scent also transported me back about 25 years to Degoey’s farm, near Wallaceburg, Ontario. Every year, Mom would take us kids to this u-pick, and most years, we ate more than we picked. But one year, upon coincidentally meeting a family with whom we were close to, the tides turned from eating to something more egregious.
We quite literally threw, squashed and smashed more than we picked, much to the mothers’ collective chagrin, but to our delight. And I’m sure that if anyone mentions “strawberry fight” to any of the involved parties, they would still dissolve into giggles at the memory.
To assuage my adult guilt from that wasteful war, I dutifully abstain from eating while picking my own these days, and I’m trying to teach Charlotte the same respect for farm-fresh produce… within reason. What kid, or kid-at-heart, can resist popping a just-off-the-plant berry into their mouth, dirt be damned?
After all, a berry or two is a reward for the crouching, back pain-inducing hunt that is strawberry picking. According to the Ontario Berry Growers Association, strawberries were originally called “strewberries” as they were strewn about the plant. The name evolved into “straw” as farmers would bring their bounty to harvest on beds of straw to protect the tender fruit.
Speaking of, while strawberries are widely considered a fruit, they are actually part of the Rose family. And they’re not actually a fruit, but the enlarged ends of the plant’s stamen. Its small black spots are actually the fruit.
The Ontario Berry Growers Association suggests that strawberries are best enjoyed fresh and unadulterated. I’m inclined to agree, and as proof, it’s almost impossible to find a strawberry recipe that goes much beyond a very simple preparation as a result. This cake looks to be a delicious departure, while preserving fresh strawberries’ poppable, mouth-watering, appeal.
Strawberry Almond Cornmeal Cake
(from Bon Appetit, May 2015)
1/2 cup raw skin-on almonds
¼ cup freeze-dried strawberries (available at bulk food stores)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Non-stick vegetable oil spray
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
¾ cup almond paste
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 pound strawberries, hulled, half halved, half quartered
Pulse almonds in a food processor until about the size of grains of rice. Add strawberries and pulse to a coarse powder. Add flour, sugar, and salt and pulse just to blend. Add butter and process until no dry spots remain.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat pan with non-stick spray. Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, break up almond paste in a large bowl until crumbly. Add sugar and butter and mix until blended, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well to incorporate after each addition. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and mix in dry ingredients.
Scrape batter into pan; scatter strawberries over top, followed by clumps of crumble. Bake cake until top is golden brown and a tester inserted into the centre comes out clean, 80–90 minutes. Let cool in pan before unmolding. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.