Last Friday, Earl Bunting welcomed visitors to his Limington, Maine, orchard for “pick your own” strawberry season. “We opened at 7 a.m.,” says Bunting, “and when we opened, our parking lot was full.”
Luckily, he says, there was plenty to pick. “Our crop looks great,” he says. “We had a very mild winter,” and the Maine strawberry season “has had an earlier start—it’s a week or so earlier than normal.” A great year, Bunting continues, will yield about 20,000 pounds of strawberries per acre, and “I think we’ll be in that range this year.”
Up and down the East Coast, it’s been a banner year for the sweet, red fruit. “These are the nicest strawberries we’ve ever had,” says Hank Kraszewski, the owner of Hank’s Farmstand in Southampton, N.Y. “They’re absolutely gorgeous, and they’re early this year. Usually we start on June 10; this year we started end of May.” Kraszewski estimates that his yield this year is 50% to 60% more than usual, though some of that, he suggests, could be attributed to a new deer fence.
Spring’s mild, consistent weather has also helped. “We didn’t have any of those late frosts, and we have a tremendous amount of blossom on the strawberries,” says Mark Doyle, the farm manager of Fishkill Farms in Hopewell Junction, N.Y. “We’re seeing quite a large crop.”
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Doyle says his strawberry season started a week early, too—normally, it begins around June 5. Since then, he says, “the phone is ringing off the hook” with people eager to load up on berries. Even farms that experienced adverse weather, such as Soergel Orchards in Wexford, Pa., report that average yields aren’t affected.
What this means for you: It’s time to indulge. Exquisite, succulent, flavorful berries are available only a few weeks a year, after all. But what to do once you’ve acquired as many quarts as you can?
“The first thing that’s important: Strawberries are more delicate than they look,” says Peter Hoffman, whose former restaurant Savoy in SoHo had a notable Greenmarket focus. His recent book, What’s Good: A Memoir in Fourteen Ingredients, dedicates a chapter to the fruit.
One tip is to take them out of the container unwashed and then put them in a plastic container. That’s because, he says, “water starts to accelerate the deterioration.” Wash them only when you need them, so “you can concentrate the flavor.”
Hoffman says strawberries can last five days from when they’ve been picked. For those with the (fortunate) burden of too many strawberries and not enough time, we’ve sourced four recipes—savory, sweet, in a drink, and one for storage—that should use up a significant chunk of your harvest.
Strawberry Sofrito (Savory)
The following recipe for sofrito, an aromatic staple of Latin American cooking, is adapted from chef Jeremy Fox of Rustic Canyon in Los Angeles. It’s a good accompaniment to grilled fish or chicken, or when served with cheese.
Makes about 4 cups
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups finely chopped white onion
1 cup pine nuts, untoastedSea salt
2 cups finely chopped fennel
2 lbs strawberries, mashed with your hands or a potato masher—about three heaping cups, once mashed
In a medium saucepan, combine the oil, onion, pine nuts, and several pinches of salt and cook over low heat for one hour. Add the fennel and cook for one more hour. Add the mashed strawberries and continue cooking for roughly a third hour until all the ingredients are caramelized and jammy. Season with salt and serve.
Strawberry Shortcake (Sweet)
The following recipe for the classic strawberry dessert is adapted from Food & Wine Magazine.
1 kilo strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
One-third cup plus one-fourth cup superfine sugar
1 and three-fourth cup cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
One-eight tsp salt
4 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 cups cold heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Butter an 8-inch cake pan. In a bowl, toss the strawberries with the one-third cup sugar. Let stand for 30 to 60 minutes. If the berries are firm, crush lightly with a fork.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Using your fingers or a table knife, rub the butter into the flour mixture until thoroughly incorporated. Stir in 2 tbsp of the sugar. Pour over two-third cup of the heavy cream and stir just until incorporated. Pat the dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. Set in the prepared cake pan, patting it in evenly. Brush with 1 tbsp of cream and sprinkle with 1 tbsp of sugar. Bake for 20 minutes, until the top is golden and firm. Let cool slightly then transfer to a rack to cool, sugar side up.
Beat the cream with the vanilla and remaining 1 tbsp sugar to soft peaks.
Cut the shortcake in half, horizontally, and transfer the bottom half to a plate. Spoon the berries and juices on top. Top with about two-thirds of the whipped cream and cover with the pastry top. Serve the remaining whipped cream alongside it.
The following recipe is adapted from What’s Good, by Peter Hoffman. In the book, he features a black pepper simple syrup, but you can use a regular one for a more classic drink. If you want to enhance the pepperiness, coat the glass rim with a mix of sugar, salt, and crushed black pepper
Makes 2 drinks
10 large strawberries, hulled
4 oz blanco tequila
2 oz simple syrup, preferably black pepper simple syrup (see Note)
2 oz fresh lemon juice
In a cocktail shaker, mash the strawberries with a spoon or muddler, but don’t purée them. Pour in the tequila, simple syrup, and lime juice. Add ice and shake well. Pour into rocks glasses.
Note: Simple syrup is made by mixing equal amounts of very hot water and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. (Boil, if necessary.) Let cool before using. For black pepper syrup, add 2 tbsp crushed pepper for every 1 cup of water and sugar, and strain before cooling.
Strawberry Jam (Storage)
The following recipe is adapted from Food52. The butter, says Merrill Stubbs, the website’s co-founder, helps make the jam crystal clear.
Makes about 1 quart
4 cups hulled, quartered strawberries
2 one-fourth cups sugar
Pinch of salt
Juice of half a lemon
1 and half tsp cold, unsalted butter
In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the strawberries, sugar, salt, and lemon juice. Simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, until the jam is thickened and set. To test it, put a spoonful on a very cold plate; it shouldn’t quickly melt out.
Off the heat, stir in the butter. Spoon the hot jam into hot, sterilized jars, leaving half inch of room at the top.
If storing in the refrigerator, let cool, then refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
If preserving for a longer period of time, follow these directions for processing and storage.