Although the calendar insists that spring is here, it has taken several more weeks and several more signs to convince us that Old Man Winter has finally packed up for another year. Easter and Mother’s Day are both undeniable harbingers of the season of renewal and rebirth.
The National Retail Federation states that spending on Mom will be close to $20 billion, with flowers being the most popular gift. Following close behind are jewelry, personal items and greeting cards. More than $3.5 billion will be spent on meals and food items. And one of spring’s favorite treats shows up just in time — fresh strawberries.
Cultivation of strawberries began in Europe in the 1300s, but the berry only became very popular in the early 1900s in California. Chocolate-covered strawberries are a favorite for Valentine’s Day and other romantic occasions.
A quick search of the Internet revealed varying stories about the succulent fruit. A famous tale from Greek mythology places the origins of the wild strawberry with the goddess Aphrodite, who upon the death of her handsome but mortal Adonis, wept with such passion that in her grief, her tears fell as small red hearts — strawberries.
In the Middle Ages, strawberries became known as the fruit of temptation and seduction. In popular culture, the strawberry is a symbol for Venus, the goddess of love, because of its heart shape and red color.
Strawberries are also popular crops for backyard gardeners. According to Better Homes & Gardens, no matter where you live in the country, there is a strawberry variety that will thrive in your home garden.
Whether you grow these sweet scarlet delights or buy them by the bushel at a farm stand, a few steps can be taken to preserve their pleasure.
Bill Landreth of Bill’s Berries in Newport gives this advice: “Be careful not to buy more than you can eat or preserve soon — the moisture in berries can deteriorate quickly at room temperature, and refrigeration only gives you a couple more days.”
The preferred method of preservation is vacuum-sealing washed and hulled berries, or individually freezing prepared berries, then storing them in a zip-top bag and squeezing out as much air as possible.
Chocolate-dipped strawberries are known as a delicacy worldwide. There’s no need to break the bank to show Mom how special she is — chocolate-covered strawberries can be easily made at home. For perfect results, pay close attention to melting the chocolate and allowing the berries to set up properly.
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 pound strawberries with stems (about 20), washed and dried very well
Separate the dark and light chocolate into small bowls. Melt the chocolates in a microwave at half power, for 1 minute. Stir, and then heat for another minute or until melted. Or melt slowly over a double boiler, stirring constantly.
Line a sheet pan with parchment or waxed paper. Holding the strawberry by the stem, dip the fruit into the dark chocolate, lift and twist slightly, letting any excess chocolate fall back into the bowl. Set the strawberry on the parchment paper. Repeat with the rest of the strawberries. Dip a fork into the white chocolate and drizzle the white chocolate over the dipped strawberries. Do not move the dipped berries before they have set, or you will upset the chocolate shell.
Set the strawberries aside until the chocolate sets, about 30 minutes.
SPIKED STRAWBERRY LIME PIE
4 cups pretzel twists
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 (1/2-gallon) container premium strawberry ice cream
1 (16-ounce) container fresh strawberries (1 quart), hulled
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 (6-ounce) can frozen limeade concentrate, partially thawed
1/2 cup tequila (optional — see note)
1 cup orange liqueur (optional — see note)
Garnishes: Lime rind curls, fresh whole strawberries, pretzels
Process first three ingredients in a food processor until pretzels are finely crushed. Firmly press mixture onto bottom of a lightly greased 10-inch springform pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
Let strawberry ice cream stand at room temperature for 20 minutes or until slightly softened.
Process strawberries and powdered sugar in food processor until pureed, stopping to scrape down sides.
Place ice cream in a large bowl; cut into large (3-inch) pieces. Fold strawberry mixture, limeade concentrate, tequila and orange liqueur into ice cream until well blended. Spoon mixture into prepared crust in springform pan. Freeze for 3 hours or until firm. Let stand 10 minutes at room temperature before serving. Garnish, if desired.
Cook’s note: Frozen limeade, orange juice or frozen alcohol-free margarita mix can be substituted for the tequila and orange liqueur.
1/2 cup red-pepper jelly
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lime zest
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
2 cups chopped fresh strawberries
1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 small avocado, diced
Whisk together red pepper jelly, chives, cilantro, lime zest, fresh lime juice and dried crushed red pepper in a medium bowl. Stir in strawberries and sweetened dried cranberries; cover and chill 1 hour. Stir in diced avocado just before serving. Serve with grilled or pan-fried meats, poultry or seafood.
STRAWBERRY SEMIFREDDO CHEESECAKE
2 (3-ounce) packages soft ladyfingers
2 pints strawberry ice cream, softened
1 pint strawberry sorbet, softened
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 (7-ounce) jar marshmallow crème
1 cup heavy cream
Arrange ladyfingers around sides and on bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Reserve any remaining ladyfingers for another use. Spread strawberry ice cream over ladyfingers, and freeze for 30 minutes.
Spread softened strawberry sorbet over ice cream. Freeze for 30 minutes.
Process strawberries and powdered sugar in a food processor for 1 minute or until pureed. Reserve 1/4 cup of the mixture. Whisk remaining strawberry mixture into marshmallow crème until well blended.
Beat cream at high speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold into marshmallow mixture. Pour over sorbet in pan. Drizzle reserved strawberry mixture over top, and gently swirl with a paring knife. Freeze for 4 hours or until firm. Let ice-cream cake stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving.