A rugged year to be a strawberry grower? To be sure.
But since there's nothing you can do to alter nature's cycle, you better make the most of it. With local crops coming on, you'd be wise to get those berries soon. I consider it an unconscionable act to ignore the moment.
Even though gallons of them have already passed through my life, the season should never be taken lightly. Not when for every fresh, sweet, succulent Oregon strawberry there are dozens and dozens of road-weary imitations to contend with the rest of the year.
Indeed, the strawberry is one of Oregon's dearest commodities. So when the berries are ripe and sweet, it's time to get thee to a field or market. To be able to step out your front door and walk a block — or at the most, take a short drive across town — to a U-pick field, farmers market or thoughtfully stocked produce department — is heaven on earth.
Of course, with a little more commitment in time, you can extend the season through freezing and preserving. Here's the most basic way to freeze your Oregon strawberries.
- Traditional method for freezing whole, unsweetened berries — Gently wash whole berries in cold water, then hull. Place the hulled berries on paper towels and pat dry. Place another sheet of paper toweling on a cookie sheet, then place the berries on top in a single layer; freeze. Repack the frozen berries into freezer containers, shaking them down to remove as much air as possible; return to freezer.
- Traditional method for freezing lightly sweetened berries — For each quart of hulled strawberries, (whole or halved) use 1/4 to 3/4 cup of sugar, depending on the desired amount of sweetness. Place the berries in a shallow pan, sprinkle on the sugar and let the berries sit for about 15 minutes to draw the juices. Pack the berries in freezer containers, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace; freeze.
The family recipe on Page 4 is one of my favorite ways to enjoy the fruits of summer: layer after delectable layer of sponge cake, fresh fruit, soft custard and whipped cream, generously laced with sherry, brandy and perhaps even a splash of Grand Marnier if you're feeling extravagant.
I learned how to compose this trifle from my mother, Margaret. All the women in the McMillan clan have known how to make it, so it seemed like all festivities of my youth ended with a trifle. The older I got, the deeper down into the bottom layers I was allowed to scoop (which is where all the liquor ends up, of course!).
Mom will still make one at the drop of a hat. And she never cheats on the custard — always from scratch; never out of a box. Restaurants rarely get this right because it's simply not cost-effective to include the amount of custard, fruit and liquor necessary to achieve sinful perfection.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.