May 16, 2012

Food in the Front Yard Project: Growing Strawberries (Plus a balsamic-strawberry preserves recipe)

Alice plucks strawberries right off the plant and pops them into her mouth faster than I can tell her to slow down and take the green tops off first.

She has learned to pull back the leaves to look for ripe berries. She passes over the whiteish-greenish ones. "Not ready yet," she says and shakes her head.

My family lived next to a strawberry field for a couple of years when I was growing up. Strawberries were always a favorite.

Nonetheless, watching Alice eat them now doesn't call up any specific memory so much as a general summery feeling: sun-warmed fruit and juice dripping between your fingers.

It's delightful.

Growing strawberries was an easy choice for our raised-bed garden. They're evergreen, and they're easy: Keep the soil moist. Give plenty of sun. Harvest when red - but pull by the stem, not by the fruit. (For more nuanced guidance, the Cooperative Extension has some great resources).

More than that, we knew it was a plant Alice would be familiar with, would enjoy and would want to care for. The scale is perfect for little fingers. No thorns. No pits. No peels.

We love strawberries in pies with rhubarb, in salads with goat cheese - and just as they are. But tucked inside our CSA box several weeks ago was a new strawberry recipe I'd been eager to try:

Strawberry Preserves with Pepper and Balsamic
Recipe from Farm Fresh to You

You'll need:
2 cups strawberries, trimmed and quartered
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Instructions: Combine all ingredients in a small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes (or until thickened and translucent), stirring and skimming foam occasionally. Remove from heat and chill completely. Preserves will keep, covered and refrigerated, for a month.

I ate mine with cheese on a toasted English muffin, but I think these preserves might taste even better on crackers, or maybe as the base of a vinaigrette?

To read more about how we planned and planted our front yard garden, start with Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

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