Finding a perfectly ripe, juicy sweet strawberry, deep red all the way through, can be like discovering a unicorn. Unless you grow them yourself or know someone who does, there is bound to be disappointment. Some of us are lucky and have farmers, markets and U-pick sites to visit where whole fragrant flats can be purchased or picked for a price. We’re the lucky ones. If you’re stuck with grocery store specimens, well, I’m sorry. Spending the better part of my life with those tasteless blobs, I never really understood what all the fuss was about. But I learned.
A trip to France completely upended what I thought about strawberries. To be fair, miraculous things just seem to appear out of thin air in the French countryside. It’s just how it is. Wandering through a village market, I came across little baskets of incredibly tiny red strawberries – fraise des bois – with an overwhelming aroma for something so petite. The vendor, noticing my curiosity, offered me one to taste. I popped it in my mouth and she laughed at my incredulous expression. How something so tiny could pack that kind of flavor punch was insane. Well damn. I’d never experienced anything like it. But it was France; these things happen. It’d be a different story back home where strawberries were gigantic, flavorless pale orbs.
But it turns out my friend Farmer Pete grew these illusive fraise des bois among other strawberry varietals at his Michigan farm. Hooray! No more pale centers! No more tasteless flesh! No more little baskets that smell of absolutely nothing! I had tasted nirvana and I wanted it again. Like an addict, I was hooked. So I made a key concession, which involved waiting until the early weeks of June when those gorgeous midwestern berries are ready to burst and avoided the grocery store all together. The season is short, just a few weeks, but a smile spreads across my face as I approach my farmers market. I swear you can smell those berries a ½ block away. And once I start, I can’t stop.
This season I bought too many. I’m not sure what happened. The first week they appeared, I purchased a rather modest and restrained single quart basket. Three days later, though not quite finished with the first, I bought another. Then all hell broke loose. Four days later, with the vestiges of the last purchase lingering in my fridge, I broke down and bought a flat. 8 quarts. The scent quickly overtook my car and for the first time, I considered unconsciousness through strawberry asphyxiation a distinct possibility. I ate, I baked and I jammed and there was still a basket or two left. Before they turned, I made something that is so much better with perfectly and evenly slightly overripe fruit. Sorbet. Straight up crazy berry flavor with nothing else to get in the way.
Roasting fruit really intensifies an already strong flavor and I enhanced it even more with some brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Simply pureed and spun in an ice cream maker, I then did something that only happens in the best of situations: I ate a good portion of it right out of the ice cream maker, while it was spinning. It was my house, my sorbet, my spoon. I was allowed. And I simply couldn’t stop – the flavor was strawberry x 10. The only reason I put the spoon away was because there was a good chance I would have nothing left to photograph.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: HAPPINESS ON A SPOON. We wait all year for those perfect fruits of summer and then they’re gone in a blink of an eye. I tend to panic, thereby creating a whole new level of stress that I might miss it or not enjoy it to it’s fullest so I over buy. Every damn time. But that’s OK because there are many beautiful things to enjoy with the first berries of the summer.
On this blog three years ago: The Peterson Garden Project – the Sophie’s Choice of Seedlings
On this blog two years ago: Puff Pastry Asparagus Spears
On this blog one year ago: Fresh Homemade Ricotta
Other strawberries recipes: Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie, Strawberry Buttermilk Sherbet, Strawberry Butter (with Fresh Popovers), Strawberry Hibiscus Popsicles, Strawberry Shortcake, Strawberries in Hibiscus Syrup
other strawberry adventures: Visiting Chino Farms, Strawberry Fields Forever – adventures in U-Pick
ROASTED STRAWBERRY SORBET
Makes 1 quart
2 pints fresh ripe strawberries – about 4 cups once cleaned & halved
3 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
good pinch of kosher salt
few grinds of black pepper
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Hull the strawberries and cut in half.
- Toss gently with the brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
- Pour the mixture into an even single layer on a ¼ sheet pan (or a 9”x9” pan) and roast for 15 minutes.
- Stir and continuing roasting for 15 minutes more until the berries have started to collapse, the liquid is thick and syrup and frankly, the mixture is very fragrant but looks rather unattractive. Do not fret.
- Remove from the oven and place the pan on a wire rack to cool.
- While the berries are roasting, make a simple syrup by combining the ½ cup each sugar and water and boiling until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool until needed.
- Place a strainer over a 2 cup liquid measure and strain the roasted berries. Depending on how much liquid your berries give up, you should have between ½ – ¾ cup liquid. Top off the berry liquid with the simple syrup until you have 1 ½ cups.
- In a blender or with an immersion blender, puree the berries and 1 ½ cups liquid until smooth. If using a standard blender, you may have to do this in 2-3 batches.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover and chill until very cold.
- Process in your ice cream maker per the manufacturers instructions, transfer to a freezer container and let harden in the freezer at least 2 hours before serving.