Beautiful Berries

This post doesn’t have a recipe – it has a mandate. Here in the midwest, it is peak strawberry season. And for this midwestern girl, I have a strong attachment to local strawberries. Growing up, strawberries meant the end of the school year and lazy afternoons floating in the pool, and spending early mornings at Middleton’s Berry Farm picking beautiful berries and eating more than my share, still warm from the sun. Most of all, strawberries meant that my birthday is fast approaching, and with it – strawberry shortcake.

Right on schedule, the strawberries are in and my birthday is fast on their heels. While some of the magic surrounding birthday celebrations has faded, I’ll never stop celebrating locally grown, ruby red strawberries that drip juices down the front of your shirt, marking it forever. So this post isn’t about making something, it’s about getting out to your local farmer’s market and buying some REAL strawberries. Grocery store berries just do not cut it. I’m fairly militant in my love of local soft fruits – you’ll never see me buying a strawberry, plum, peach or nectarine at a grocery…it’s local and seasonal or nothing for me.

Most Saturdays, I wake up early and take Turbo (resident greyhound)  for a long leisurely stroll at sunrise and then ride my bike up to the Evanston Farmers Market just after it opens. I like to have time to chat with my favorite farmers before it gets too busy and before the aisles become jammed with strollers. I like to be unhurried in my marketing and to take it all in before the crowds arrive. This strategy also ensures the prime picks of the produce, which is reason enough to get up early if you ask me.

There’s a new vendor at the market this year, Old Town Oil, and I could not be more thrilled to see them venture north to Evanston. They’ve got a small shop in Old Town in Chicago that is a cozy wonderland of delicious things. Their staff are friendly, knowledgeable and ply you with samples of any oil or vinegar you want to taste…and I like to taste them all. It’s a good strategy, too, judging by the fact that I have an entire cabinet in my kitchen for oils and vinegars. Seeing them at my market, just as strawberries arrive – it was destiny. I spent a few minutes chatting and tasting all their balsamics, and somehow walked away with three bottles of vinegar. I’ll tell you right now – they’re worth every penny.

Dear readers, your assignment for this week is simple. Find some local strawberries (or peaches for the Southerners amongst you who have them in season already), and buy a really good, aged bottle of balsamic…it may cost you $15-30 for a small bottle, but I promise you it is worth it. Hull and slice a handful of the most perfect berries, and put them in a pretty bowl. Then, uncork your balsamic and dribble a few drops over the berries. Eat them slowly, savoring every bite as the sweet berries and tangy vinegar dance on your tongue.

Heaven.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy strawberries – share your berry favorites in the comments below!

14 thoughts on “Beautiful Berries

  1. I wish I could afford some of the amazing maple balsamic that I got to try at a wine expo a few years ago. That would be amazing on strawberries. However, plain syrup dumped over berries and set to marinate for a bit is pretty awesome. Add maple sweetened whipped cream and I’m good to go.

    I’m about burnt out on berries though. I have a teensy patch, can’t be more than 8×8, and I’ve already picked close to 6 quarts this summer. It is my highest yield so far and I’m just starting to freeze them because I can’t eat them fast enough. I’m mildly allergic to strawberries so I have to be careful how many I eat.

    • Burnt out on berries? Not possible, Dawn! Definitely time to start stockpiling in the freezer for a cold winter day! I would LOVE to be able to grow my own – hope you’re enjoying the garden this summer!

  2. When you have too many strawberries, we make freezer jam.

    I also grew up on Midwest strawberries, my grandparents had a huge patch of them. And we usually had too many to eat so we’d make freezer jam – and they sold them in their driveway.

    I am also allergic to strawberries but they ONLY(!) give me eczema, which I can deal with for a little while…

    I still need to try the strawberries with balsamic…maybe this week! Or with a little goat cheese, hmmm…

    • Oooh, good call on the goat cheese…I think balsamic AND goat cheese would probably be divine!

      Did we have the same grandparents?! LOL – Mine also had a huge patch of berries, and I have fond memories of picking them with gramps and helping him make jam. They’d put a table out front with jars and leave a collection box.

  3. Jenn- two things:

    1. Berries would grow AWESOME in a mid-size planter on your deck. All the morning sun would be great. Take a year or two for the good crop to come in, but when it does, WHOA.
    2. Funny you mention balsalmic and berries…i’m fixing to do a berry-balsalmic reduction sauce this weekend! I’ve been looking forward to it (and the shortcake for desert) for a long, long while now. 7am market for me on Sat for sure!

    • I’ve tried berries on the deck…in truth, I can’t grow much beyond rosemary out there. It’s SO windy off the lake, the most plants can’t withstand it. And being on the North side of the building with Balconies above us, we actually only get 45min of sun in the early morning and evening…plants that need a lot of sun like berries grow really slow. I think I had about 6 pea-sized berries at the end of July the year I tried it. LOL.

      Enjoy the berry-balsamic shortcakes – sounds heavenly. I might have to do the same!

  4. i totally agree jenn – I didn’t know what i was missing until i started shopping at the markets last year! the sugared strawberries i made last week were so last-minute that i had to buy the driscoll’s brand from WF! they’re good, but you know they’re not as good as they can be. my in laws are coming in tonight, and i just went grocery shopping but decided to hold off on asparagus and strawberries and make my way to the market this weekend🙂

  5. Peach?! Cinnamon Pear?! BLUEBERRY?!!?!?! Jenn, thanks for the heads up on this one. I prefer olive oil/vinegar to salad dressings any day. These I have to try.

    I love eating strawberries plain or with some dark chocolate syrup. A very decadent dessert…yum!

    • You NEED to get up to Old Town and go to the shop – it’s SO amazing. I’ve got the Peach and Pomagranate balsamics, and they’re amazing…I swear, I’d be happy to do shots of the stuff. Mmmmmm.

  6. Berries with Balsamic Vinegar? I’ve never tried it but you make it sound so delish! One more American / European way of enjoying fruits I am yet to learn to adopt🙂

    • You must try it! It’s best with a expensive-ish aged balsamic, but if you just have grocery store balsamic, put a 1/4 cup in a small saucepan with a tablespoon or so of brown sugar and reduce until syrupy – almost as good!

  7. Strawberries and balsamic are absolutely nearly the most perfect summer treat. Nearly, I say, because the holy trifecta is only complete when you lay it over a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream. Can you believe balsamic vinegar and ice cream go so well together? Can you say ‘jump up and slap yo mamma’?

    • It’s so true, Heather! Strawberries, balsamic & vanilla ice cream were truly made for each other! Peaches with balsamic and ice cream are a close second in my summertime treats book as well!

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