Perhaps it’s a bit late in the season for a post on strawberries, but as a person who grew up in a town that used to bill itself as “The Strawberry Capital of the World,” I’m pretty much obligated to make note of their appearance. We’ve enjoyed plenty of strawberries at my house this year; one might say that we’ve enjoyed more than plenty. Between my frequent visits to The Market at Blooming Colors to purchase gallons at a time and the steady supply coming each week from our C.S.A., we’ve had strawberries in the refrigerator consistently since early May. I made a few small batches of jam, but mostly we’ve eaten them at out of hand.
Is there a better way, I wonder? Well … maybe.
Strawberry season in Ponchatoula has always a big deal. To accommodate the kids who lived on strawberry farms, my highschool’s spring break lasted for nearly a month, meaning that we attended classes well into June to make up for the lost days. This continued until 1985, the year I graduated, when a new school was built to accommodate the increasing numbers of students.
Less prosaically, William Faulkner refers to the town’s strawberries in The Wild Palms. Walker Percy, who lived for a time in nearby Covington, mentions it in one of his novels, but I can’t remember which one.
A flat of “Ponchatoula strawberries” used to be considered a delicacy, something truly special. Years ago, farmers used to truck their berries into New Orleans to sell flats on Canal Street for astronomical sums. To cheat the system, my grandmother made more frequent visits to our home during berry season on the pretense of “visiting her grandchildren.” She fooled no one; the back seat of her car sometimes contained as many as three flats of berries. One went to her boss, one she shared with her coworkers, the other she ate by herself, sometimes in the car on the way home.
Ponchatoula berries are still special, but there are far fewer of them these days. Many of the farms are residential subdivisions now; my mother lives in one of them. The city lost the right to proclaim itself the “Strawberry Capital of the World” when farmers on the West coast began growing strawberries on an industrial scale in the early-90s and priced Ponchatoula berries out of the market. These days, the town somehow makes do with “America’s Antique Capital.”
I miss the strawberries.
UPDATE: My mother has insisted that I let everyone know that this year’s Strawberry Festival attracted a crowd of over 100,000 people.
RUSTIC STRAWBERRY GALETTE
On those rare occasions when you find yourself with plenty of strawberries — more than you can eat out of hand — this galette makes a delicious Summer dessert. It’s fancy enough for company, but won’t keep you in the hot kitchen for very long at all. Blackberries and blueberries make fine substitutes — just make sure to use the appropriate flavor of jam.
The dough is adapted from Cooking Light
13⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
1⁄4 cup coarse whole grain cornmeal
1⁄4 tsp salt
1⁄2 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup strawberry jam
1⁄2 cup finely crumbled shortbread cookies
3 to 4 cups fresh strawberries
1 Tbs. granulated white sugar
1⁄4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp grated lemon zest
For the top:
1 large egg white
1 Tbs. milk
1 Tbs. turbinado sugar
Dough: In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, cornmeal and salt; pulse 3-4 times. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. While the processor is running, slowly drizzle buttermilk into the crumbs. Process until dough comes together to form a ball.
Remove dough from processor and form ball, incorporating any stray crumbs. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.
Galette: Place rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Remove dough from refrigerator and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Roll out dough into a 14 to 15-inch wide roundish circle. You can use a pot lot as a guide, but don’t worry too much about perfection.
Spread jam on top of the dough, leaving about a 11⁄2-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle cookie crumbs on top jam. Scatter berries on top of crumbs. You should have enough berries for two layers. Mix sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest together and lightly sprinkle this mixture over the berries.
Gently fold edges of dough back over the strawberries.
Whisk egg white and milk in a small bowl. Brush edges of dough with egg wash, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Transfer baking sheet to a cooling rack for about 30 minutes. If you want to be fancy, serve the cooled galette with a spoonful of whipped cream or along side a bowl vanilla ice cream.
And, one more thing.
Love Tastes Like Strawberry ~ Miriam Makeba
Love is fast like fingers flying
Love is soft like years of crying
While the spices interlace
Love' s got a fresh strawberry taste
And when the peddler cries strawberries
That' s when my heart replies, strawberries
Love tastes like strawberries
Met my love in the market place
My heart stopped when I saw his face
The very man said won' t you try this
We looked, we bought, we stole a kiss
The berries are gone and spring has pass
But I know my love will always last
For rain has gone with a sudden haste
Love' s got a fresh strawberry taste