Sunday, July 17, 2011

Strawberry Pickin’ Time

My daughter picked me up early one sunny Sunday morning, Fathers’ Day to be exact. “Let the dads sleep. We’re going strawberry picking,” she said. My two and four year old grandchildren were squirming in the back seat. Dressed in farmer clothes, they were ready for action.

We followed the river and drove down a dirt lane to the farm fields. Old red barns surrounded with fertile fields and farm equipment rested in the grass. We rushed to the strawberry stand, picked up two cardboard crates and walked through the straw strewn field. The kids were so excited—my grandson, about the tractors and plows, and the strawberry princess about the bright red fragrant berries.

Now these berries were like the strawberries I remember from my childhood, almost like wild ones. They were juicy and sweet all the way through and smaller than the ones you find in the grocery. We walked across the rows picking at random and even when the crates were full, it was hard to stop. Every time I saw another juicy cluster I stooped for just a few more.

The next day, I cleaned the berries, crushed them with a potato masher, and made delicious strawberry jam. Boiling the berries with sugar and Sure Jell in grandma’s big jelly kettle took me back to her steamy kitchen. Patiently stirring the chunks of succulent berries with their bright red color and intense flavor reminded me that you can’t find commercial jam like this today. Sealed in half pint jars the jam now waits contentedly for cold weather, and Grandma’s toast and biscuits.

While the berries are still in season, make Heaven’s Strawberry Bread with you grand kids. It will bring joy to your family and guests, especially those that helped make it. If you’ve missed the strawberry season in your part of the country, you can still make it using frozen berries. It may not be as perfect as these sweet soft berries of the gods, but it can match banana bread any day. And don’t forget, the best strawberries are those you pick yourself at the peak of ripeness in June, about Fathers’ Day.

Heaven’s Strawberry Bread (or cake)

1 ½ cups cooking oil (may substitute half with applesauce)
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
3 cups flour
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
¾ tsp. salt
1 ½-to 2 cups fresh strawberry—with juices (sliced and sprinkled with sugar and allowed to set until juices are released or over night in the refrigerator.)
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Flour and butter for greasing loaf pans (or use baking spray with flour.)
Directions: Mix oil, sugar, and eggs in a large bowl. Then add mixture of dry ingredients: flour, soda, cinnamon, and salt, alternately with the strawberries. Last fold in the nuts and stir just until blended.

Pour into two prepared loaf pans. (9”X5”) and bake 350 degrees for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on rack and serve.

Hint: for cake: Pour all batter into one fluted bunt pan and after baking and cooling, drizzle with cream cheese icing. Garnish with fresh strawberries, mint and/or nuts.

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