The Unbeatable Taste of Strawberries
In the '60s a grandiflora rose was named Strawberry blonde. There are strawberry geraniums, strawberry trees, wild strawberries, and cultivated strawberries. The cultivated strawberries we enjoy today are not produced from seeds, but from runners- stems which take root around the central plant. Strawberries require well-drained, fertile, moist soil, and thrive in cool weather. The crowns must be set just above soil level; if too deep, they will rot, if too shallow the roots will dry out. In our area, the plants should be well mulched to prevent heaving.
Strawberry recipes abound. The best recipes for putting down berries come from the label wrapped around a "Certo" bottle. Let's concentrate on some uses for fresh-as-they-are-picked strawberries:
Bake or buy your favorite pound cake. Slice into 3 layers, the bottom layer being slightly thicker than the other two. Drizzle your favorite liqueur over bottom layer. You may like to try something a little different such as Amaretto, Coffee, or Southern Comfort. Next, cover same layer with about one-quarter inch of freshly made butter cream. On top of this goes fresh halved ripe strawberries and another sprinkle (just a sprinkle) of liqueur, then a cake layer. On top of cake layer, spoon and spread thick whipped cream and place third layer gently on top. For a more fancy occasion, cover the whole cake with really firm whipped cream, fill a piping bag with more cream and squeeze a pattern on the cream-covered cake. Then place whole berries on the corners, or in the center. I've done a pretty shower cake using the same idea, but using a genoise cake recipe. You can get very creative using berries and thickly whipped cream.
Try this: Sprinkle generous sugar to taste over quite-ripe chopped fresh strawberries, then cover with ordinary two percent milk (or you can use half and half cream).
Let stand a few minutes, then mash and stir. Refrigerate. A chemical reaction takes place and the mixture begins to thicken. Even better the next day. Serve in stem glasses or in a shrimp cocktail glass with a bit of crushed ice in the base container part. Decorate with a sprig of mint and some fresh whole strawberries; or any kind of berries.
Another great use for Strawberries: Make the strawberries and cream mixture, as noted. Make extra. Leave in the fridge (covered) for a couple days. Now, a use for the leftovers: Put the berry mix in a metal dish or one that is freezer safe. Freeze until solid.
Place container on the counter for about twenty minutes. You don't want it to thaw, but it will get hard as a brick and you will think you can do nothing with it. When you are able to remove the frozen mixture from the container, break or chop the frozen berry mix into a few large chunks. Place in food processor and whirr - pulse until a solid mush forms, sort of like ice cream thickness, scraping down the sides of the machine dish.
Place in, ideally, a metal container with a cover; I use a plum pudding container that has a cover. Re-freeze. Now you have a semi freddo. You can use this dessert like an ice cream dish: call it a sherbet or a sorbet, or you can use it as a palette cleanser between courses.
Try placing the mold upside-down on a large cake plate. Release the frozen mold. Cover with stiff whipped cream, and decorate with fresh berries (any kind), or try covering the mold with stiffly beaten egg white; then flambé with portable gas flash torch at the table.
You can make the semi freddo in individual muffin tin trays, and decorate each one individually. Originally freeze the mixture in the muffin trays, whirr each one individually in a food processor and repack into the muffin trays. These keep in the freezer for a long, long time just like ice cream does. Now you have instant gourmet when company comes.
Now for my favorite: Strawberry Pavlova.
You cannot make any kind of meringue-like mix on a humid, damp day. So you will have to be choosy about when you make this, otherwise it will be sticky, like bubble gum. We need a clear, dry day. History has it that "Pavlova" was first made with "passion fruit" about the turn of the century, in Australia, and was served to Anna Pavlova, a Russian ballerina. You really need see this masterpiece to be able to appreciate its beauty. Such carryings-on over this dish have to be heard to be believed. Will you believe you can prepare it yourself in less than 10 minutes and very inexpensively, too? The only catch here (there had to be one) is that it takes two hours in the oven, but, at only 250-275 degrees F. You can make Pavlova ahead, because, stored in an airtight container, it will keep for up to six months. Make it early one morning or late at night, if you don't want your oven on during the heat of the day. Or, toss it in the oven after you've had the oven on for some other dish, to conserve energy. Just turn down the temperature, bake for one hour, turn off the oven and let the Pavlova sit, undisturbed, for another hour. Make more than one at a time, and when guests drop in unexpectedly, presto - instant gourmet. You aren't going to believe how simple this is until you've tried it, so do have a go at it. Pavlova has a history of being difficult to make. I've never been able to figure out why. Naturally, it looks so impressive, one is bound to be accused of having spent countless time slaving in a hot kitchen to produce such results. Recipes for Pavlova come in many variations. Some use salad oil, salt, berry sugar and cream of tartar, others, vinegar and still others, lemon and cornstarch. My recipe is really a combination of other recipes and I prefer it to most others I have tried. Just remember the weather plays an important factor.
Bird's Nest Pavlova
6 or 8 egg whites (it really doesn't matter)
1-1 3/4 cups sugar (very fine, if available) (depending on how sweet your sweet tooth is)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry, so you could turn the bowl over your head, and the egg whites won't move. Add lemon and then the sugar, gradually, and sprinkle the cornstarch over and blend. Put mixture onto a well-buttered and floured cookie sheet. (Use oiled brown paper, if you prefer, or parchment paper.) With the back side of a spoon, make a nest with high sides. Flick the spoon for effect on the sides. Keep piling mixture up on the sides, smoothing the bottom a little. Keep mixture within a 10-inch circle. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. but, as soon as you've put the Pavlova into the oven, turn down the temperature control to 250-275 degrees. Pavlova should be ever so slightly golden, not amber. Some people prefer it to be plain white. The object is to dry the mixture, not to cook it. After 1 hour, turn the oven off. Don't peek. Let the Pavlova sit in the turned off oven for another hour or until cooled. Remove paper, if used, and store in an airtight container. Fill with whipped cream and top with fresh strawberries or fruit of your choice.
Economy Butter Cream
1 cup soft sweet butter
1 cup icing sugar
1 egg yolk
Flavoring (vanilla, coffee, strawberry)
Beat all ingredients together until fluffy, about 4-5 minutes, by hand.
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