Thursday, July 2, 2009

Strawberry Picking and Red, White, and Bluish

Somehow the idea of strawberry picking in a fleece jacket seems all wrong. Strawberry picking slogging through muddy fields does not compute. The calendar said it was strawberry season, and the masses had converged upon the Sauvie Island strawberry fields, but I wasn’t feeling it. To me, strawberry picking is an activity that takes place on a warm, sunny day. An activity that takes place in shorts and tank tops and sandals and with plenty of sunscreen. I turned around empty handed and headed for home—I would wait another week.

The next weekend: still cloudy, still not feeling it. Lots of rain during the week would’ve diluted the sweetness of the strawberries anyway. I would wait impatiently yet another week.

And the next weekend: a few clouds and a few optimistic rays of sunshine. Starting to feel it. I made it half way out to Sauvie Island, and out of the blue, the skies opened up. The world did not want me to have u-pick strawberries, and it told me so with a torrential downpour, complete with flooded streets.

Now at this point, I should point out that I live for strawberry season. I look forward to it all year long. I’m in an area that, especially in good years, produces some of the most fragrant, sweetest, intoxicating strawberries I have ever known, and I am determined to take advantage of it. But I do not want to buy my strawberries at the store. They’re not the same. They come without the fresh air, the sun on your shoulders, the strain in your back, and the stained fingers and lips. Without the laughter and strawberry fight with your husband. They come without the magic.

But I gave in and headed to the market to buy some local strawberries. Their aroma lured me in, they looked good, they were only twice as expensive as u-pick. I was all ready to buy a couple pints, and then I tasted one. It was cold and barely sweet. I just couldn’t go through with it.

The clouds finally dissipated, and not a moment too soon—the strawberries were bearing their last fruit of the season, tiny berries no bigger than a thumbnail. The taste of strawberries still warm from the sun was definitely worth the wait!

We came home with an entire flat of strawberries. And between the two of us, we managed to polish of said flat in 4 days flat. My husband said the Vanilla Panna Cotta, Strawberry & Lavender Gelée Verrines I made looked like a collection of marbles.

Between bites, he proclaimed that they were perfect for the 4th of July since they were red, white, and bluish.

So here’s wishing everybody a happy Independence Day!

Vanilla Panna Cotta, Strawberry & Lavender Gelée Verrines
Printable Recipe

1 ½ cups milk
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon gelatin
1 ½ cups heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
2 ¼ cups water
2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 drops red food coloring
2 drops blue food coloring
1 pound strawberries, diced

Measure ½ cup of the milk into a small bowl and slowly sprinkle over 2 ½ teaspoons of the gelatin. Combine the remaining 1 cup of milk, cream, and ¼ cup of the sugar in a small saucepan. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and add both the pod and the seeds to the pan. Heat to a bare simmer. Whisk in the gelatin mixture and discard the vanilla bean. Chill over an ice bath until just beginning to thicken. Divide among 6 dessert cups. Refrigerate for about an hour, or until set.

Measure ¾ cup of the water into a small bowl and slowly sprinkle over the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons of gelatin. Combine the remaining 1 ½ cups of water, remaining ½ cup of sugar, and lavender in a small saucepan. Heat to a simmer. Whisk in the gelatin mixture, lemon juice, and food coloring and strain through a fine mesh sieve. Chill over an ice bath until just beginning to thicken. Transfer to a 9-inch square cake pan. Refrigerate for about an hour, or until set.

Divide the strawberries among the dessert cups. Dip the bottom of the cake pan with the lavender gelée into hot water for a few seconds, wipe dry, and invert onto a cutting board. Dice the gelée and divide among the dessert cups. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 generous servings. Feel free to add sugar to taste to the strawberries if they aren’t very sweet.


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