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Guest Blogger Nick Schrader – Only Eat Strawberries in the Summer

June 3, 2013

Editors Note: Nick Schrader is a colleague of mine, he is married to a chef and they really really like good local and seasonal food. I have brought him “extras” from my yard and he has alway returned with something outrageously delicious to share. Thank you Nick!

Only Eat Strawberries in the Summer

Consider the strawberry at it most potential.  At its summertime peak, a strawberry is a deep ruby red on the skin, then, throughout its interior flesh.  The scent of a strawberry can be quite strong, reminiscent of sweet lime.  There have been times while at the market you can smell them from across the way.  The strawberry is soft, slightly delicate, and once bitten, melts on your tongue with the slightest press on your palate.  It tastes succulently sweet and typically kept in check by its tart acidity. The smattering of seeds on its exterior at times will give a hint of green bitterness that can round out the flavor profile nicely when aware of its subtleties. This, to me is a strawberry at its finest.  Nothing can beat having a strawberry when they are at their best.

The best strawberry I ever had reminded me of sex.  It’s cliché because its true.  My wife works nights in a restaurant and I meet her there to walk home.  She has just finished the dinner shift and is cleaning up when I walk in.  We exchange quick greetings when she says, “Oh, you have got to try these strawberries we just got in.”  Okay, I think.  Whatever.  I’ll eat a strawberry.  At first glance it looks like a good berry.  Plump, bespeckled with seeds.  A cute, leafy green hat perched on its mound.  I lay it on my tongue and bite from the inverted peak.  My teeth lay into it easily, coaxing the flesh apart.  I immediately salivate.  The berry melts in my mouth with the gentle pressure I apply on the roof of my mouth.  It mixes with my saliva and dances across my tongue exciting every taste receptor.  It blankets my sense of taste.  It reminds me that I’m alive and so in the present that I forget and future that was planed for the rest of that evening.  I turn to my wife and say,  “Lets get out of here.”  That strawberry came from Dirty Girl Farms outside of Santa Cruz.  I don’t know what they are doing there, but I want to publicly say thank you.

Strawberries growing season differs for each region.  We typically get our best strawberries by August.  But for other parts of the country it could be earlier in the summer or later.  But it always grows best in North America in the summer.  If you buy strawberries in the winter, they most likely didn’t come from North America.  They were most likely shipped to your market from Mexico or California.  Fruits and vegetables that have a summer growing period can grow in Mexico because days remain relatively the same year round.  Where as, here in North America our days grow shorter in the winter.

With this, consider winter strawberries.  First of all, you won’t find them in farmers markets, unless they are bought wholesale from a distributor.  (Some stands are known to do this.)  In grocery stores, they come packaged in plastic clamshell containers.  They are packaged either by the grocery company like Safeway or Whole foods, or bought from a fruit company like Driscolls.  These Strawberries are a pale red exterior that quickly fades to a white interior and typically have little to no scent.  They are bitter over sweet or acidic.

One may argue this is a biased argument.  It is.  I much prefer having a strawberry in the summer.  Even if you don’t care about them, you can see there is a world of difference in these two strawberries.  So, why do we eat Strawberries in the winter?

Eating fresh fruits and vegetables of the season changes the paradigm of my reality.  It supports local agriculture. I frequent my local farmers market to buy produce for the week.  The market give me the opportunity to talk with the farmers themselves on their products, how and where they are raised, and most importantly, What’s good to eat!  Farmers markets are a great resource to learn more about what’s happening in your agro-community. Once I began caring about what I eat, the more interested I became on the background of foods.  Now I have a strong understanding of which farmers grow apples, why another has amazing poblano peppers, and why Gordon of Hamada farms is passionate about growing citrus fruits (which are amazing).

Finally, I have found a respect and appreciation for food.  It’s an amazing feeling when you connect with flavorful food.  I refer to those moments when your not really paying attention to what your eating, maybe your locked in a conversation with an old friend in a restaurant, when you have a bite of Strawberry shortcake that grabs your attention.  For a brief moment you focus on the flavor.  That Strawberry is flavorful because it’s seasonal.  There is a reason for that strawberry.  It is unique to the time of year.  That strawberry wouldn’t taste the same in any other time or place.  Eating becomes an event.

With that comes appreciation.   I have grown admire and desire fruits and vegetables for their season, because I wait for their season.  Asparagus comes once a year in early spring.  Those strawberries come to me in mid summer.  Kabocha squash in October.  Chicories and Pomagranate in December.  I find myself excited with anticipation for the flavors of the fallowing season.  Then I ask myself.  I hope those strawberries are as sexy as they were last year.

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