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