have one month: Go forth and find fresh, delicious, local
We celebrated May with aspara-gus, a rewarding if altruistic
passion. June lets us let ourselves go with that compact,
unspeakably delicious indulgence, the strawberry. And it’s
not even that indulgent. In its unsullied state, it’s low
in calories and high in protein, potassium, fiber and vitamin
C. And its sweetness comes naturally, provided you don’t dump
refined sugar over the thing.
And why should you? Because we’ve been supermarket-trained
to accept the mealy, tasteless berries of mass production:
semi-ripe berries that demand sweetening. Not so in June.
According to a Cornell study published in 2000, New York ranked
seventh in the country for strawberry cultivation, harvesting
from about 1,600 acres to produce a crop valued at nearly
Strawberry plants, which are a member of the rose family,
are short-lived, good for about three years, and the constant
replanting makes it a labor-intensive crop. It’s very dependant
on weather conditions, and some of the growers I spoke with
this week fared poorly enough this year to have nothing to
The most popular plants grown in this area are hybrids, bred,
not surprisingly, for berries that are plump and sweet. It
takes about 30 days for the plants to go from flowers to ripened
fruit, with a two- to three-week harvest period following.
Those berries soon will be appearing at farm stands and selected
stores, and, if you’re ambitious and don’t mind getting the
seat of your pants stained red, at U-Pick farms where you’re
let loose in the fields with a basket.
Among the local farms that will be offering pick-your-own
and/or buy-them-picked strawberries are Altamont Orchards
on Dunsville Road, Altamont (861-6515), which typically offers
berries anywhere from the first to last week in June. The
Berry Patch of Stone Wall Hill Farm is on Route 22 in Stephentown
(733-6772) has a harvest that has become part of the tradition
at the Williamstown Theatre Festival: Berry Patch strawberries
are served in the opening-night champagne.
Look for berries about the second week in June at Best Berry
Farm, 1078 Best Road, East Greenbush (286-0607). Bowman Orchards
on Sugar Hill Road in Rexford (371-2042) offers several varieties,
including Seascape, Sweet Charlie, Chandler, Honeoye, Allstar,
Although they’re best known for their singular melons, Hand
Melon Farm on Route 29 in Greenwich (692-2376) is hoping to
start strawberry picking on the June 10. And Indian Ladder
Farms, 342 Altamont Road, Altamont (765-2956), has added strawberries
to its many offerings, and will turn you loose in the fields
early in June.
Nothing beats nibbling fresh berries from the field, but my
favorite strawberries dessert was served at a restaurant called
Tra Vigne in California, where the berries had been allowed
to sit in a little balsamic vinegar before they were presented.
Add whipped cream to a serving of strawberries and you have
a complete springtime meal. Put a fresh-baked biscuit beneath
for strawberry shortcake. If your culinary sensibility runs
along fancier lines, whip up a sabayon sauce—two egg
yolks mixed with a half-eggshell apiece of Marsala, white
wine and sugar, whisked over a double boiler until stiff and
foamy, then chilled—and mix in the berries.
One of the random facts associated with strawberries is that
the fruit was considered poisonous in Argentina until the
mid-19th century. One of the strawberry’s early-developing
garden companions is rhubarb, the leaves of which truly are
toxic, the reddish stems of which are tart and tasty (and
a traditional laxative).
Rhubarb and strawberries have a natural affinity. As I learned
at Tra Vigne, sweetness and tartness enhance one another,
and it happens nowhere better than in a strawberry-rhubarb
I’ve found no better than what’s served at Bubby’s Pie Co.
on Hudson Street in lower Manhattan. Chef Ron Silver collected
his best recipes in the book Bubby’s Homemade Pies,
and here’s a brief version of his version:
Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie
3 cups halved or sliced strawberries
3 cups (1 ˝ pounds) rhubarb, cut into half-inch pieces
1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on the top crust
4 ˝ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
Line a 9-inch pie tin with a bottom crust. Preheat oven to
450 degrees. Combine the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, flour,
zest and salt. Toss them as you would a salad. Scrape the
fruit into the pie tin, dot it with the butter, and cover
it with the top crust. Trim and crimp the crust; chill for
10 minutes in the freezer. Cut vent slits and sprinkle the
top crust with sugar.
Bake the pie on a lipped baking sheet for 10 minutes, or until
the crust looks dry, blistered and blond. Turn the oven down
to 375 degrees and bake for at least 30 minutes more, or until
the crust is golden brown and visible juices are thickened
Cool the pie completely, at least a few hours, before cutting
and serving it.
It’s a simple recipe, but that’s what strawberries are all
about: a self-contained feast in miniature. We celebrate them
next month as the Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley celebrated
them: “Long about knee-deep in June,
the time strawberries melts
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
a tasting of microbrewery beer at the Village
Pizzeria, 2727 Route 29, East Galway, at 7
PM tonight (Thursday). This is special event to
benefit the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, which
takes place this weekend in Boston and is slated
at other cities throughout the country during
the year. Pizzeria co-owner Sandy Foster, herself
a cancer survivor, participated in last year’s
walk and is eager to repeat her success. The restaurant
will offer an array of appetizers, including many
of its signature dishes, and patio seating will
be available. The cost is $25, and you can call
882-9431 for more info. . . . The Honest Weight
Food Co-op (484 Central Ave., Albany) is offering
a class in garden planting with Sandy Winn from
noon to 2 PM on Sunday, May 18 at the HWFC community
room. Winn, who cultivates three acres in the
Helderberg Mountain foothills, gardens with vegetables,
herbs, bulbs, annuals, perennials, ornamental
bushes, fruit bushes and trees. The free class
is for both experienced and inexperienced diggers.
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland
(food at banilsson.com).