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Published: Tuesday, 6/22/2010

Strawberry season is local celebration

Seventeenth-century author William Butler wrote of strawberries, "Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did."

Get next to nature and pick strawberries in a field while there is still time. Or do the picking the easy way at a roadside stand or in the produce department.

Strawberries have their own season in this part of the country. There are very few weeks that strawberries aren't in the stores, but we know the best, the sweetest, and the freshest are grown in Ohio and Michigan. No matter how many are shipped from Florida, California, and other distant places, as far as we are concerned, early June until the first of July is strawberry season. Once we have ourselves and the freezers filled with all the tantalizing foods for which we use the lush berries, we can settle back and wait for the next important local crop: That's sweet corn, what else?

This strawberry season, customers were drawn to Whittaker Farms on Todd Road in Ida, Mich., like bees to honey. The more ambitious people who like to get out in the country air and save a little money picked their own berries. Marilyn Whittaker, who operates the six-acre farm with her husband, says, "The farm produces inexpensive fun for the whole family to escape the pressure of life." Her parents, Norma and George Rauch, had a berry farm near Lasalle, Mich., for many years. The Whittakers' nurturing of the strawberry plants in cold weather accounts for the bumper crop they had. The crop was protected from this spring's heavy frost by nighttime irrigation that put a thin layer of ice on the berries. The farm is closed for the strawberry season, but reopens in August for red raspberries.

On the Whittaker Web site, whittakersberryfarm.com, Marilyn shares several family recipes. During the busy season she prefers to freeze the whole berries for use later. She places the berries in a single layer on cookie sheets in the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes, then stores them in plastic bags in the freezer. Next winter, when she has more time, she can make jam, pie, bread, or just have a bowl of berries with ice cream or whipped cream from the frozen supply.

Fresh strawberries have moved into the salad department in a big way. The late Gen Dokurno at the old Northwood Inn on Summit Street was one of the first restaurateurs to serve strawberries and red onion rings in a spinach salad with poppy seed dressing. Strawberries starred with candied almonds in Shelley Sutherland's salad on last Tuesday's food page. The firm berries also add color and flavor to waldorf and chicken salads.

At a 1980 Blade recipe contest held at Wildwood Manor House, I was astounded when the judges told me they had decided on a recipe for Kahlua Dip as the first grand prize.

I hesitated to doubt the judgment of a group of food professionals, who had been given full rein to taste and score the recipes that were prepared by the contestants. Nevertheless, I suggested gently that they may want to consider other entries that required time to prepare and may have more public appeal. But the judges were firm and would not budge from the three-ingredient recipe.

They were right. Kahlua Dip is still a popular hors d'oeuvre as well as a light dessert.

Here is the recipe: Combine one pint of sour cream with four tablespoons of brown sugar and four tablespoons Kahlua liqueur in a bowl. Encircle the bowl with whole strawberries with the hulls intact and start dipping. Pineapple, cherries, and other fruits can be used, but strawberries were the original dippers.

When I decided to write about strawberries for this column, my intention was to feature buttermilk biscuits. To me, it's not strawberry shortcake without the fluffy, old-fashioned biscuits. I have never bought the shortcake sponge cakes that always surface at strawberry time.

You may not agree, but I think biscuits are one of the most difficult things to make perfectly. An old saying that shows the importance of biscuit-baking is that when a woman learns to make good biscuits she is ready to be married.

I made two batches and both were disappointments. Each was made with two cups of flour; one with two teaspoons soda and the other with four teaspoons; one with Crisco and the other with Smart Balance, which is half butter and half olive oil. There was one cup of buttermilk in the first, three-fourths cup in the second batch. I am determined to be a champion biscuit baker. Maybe you would like to send me buttermilk biscuit recipes and tips for perfecting them?

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.



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