Banking on bars: Our colleagues at the FeedFeed have been preserving their strawberries in the form of bars.
Time is running out for me. According to intelligence I’ve gathered from farmers, ag extensionists and chefs, I’ve got about 10 days—two weeks maximum—before perfectly ripe strawberries, crimson to the core, bursting with sweet strawberriness are gone until next year.
So even though it’s way too late at night, I’m standing over the sink, my hands stained red, producing a mound of stems on the left and a collander of topped fruit on the right, to preserve the remaining berries that will not make it until morning. (I’m alone in my task, but have the same devotion of the crews that power hulling night before the Mattituck Strawberry Festival.) Between a school graduation ceremony and my home, I passed no less than three hand-painted signs beckoning drivers with promises of plump fruit. I stocked up on quarts at the last one and knowing they wouldn’t be as good in the morning, I’m committed to freeze half of it.
Hopefully, I’m not alone. Peachie Halsey, the matriarch of the Green Thumb Farm in Watermill, told us in 2006, the farm used to sell many more berries than it does today. “When we first opened the stand, people would come from all over and pick flats and flats of strawberries to make jam and pies and to freeze,” she said. “As years went on, fewer and fewer people would come and pick. They just didn’t have the time.”
Now is the time to revive this seasonal ritual. Farmstands are pushing fleeting fruit out by the box, just as they did with asparagus a few weeks ago. Pick-your-owns are particularly enticing, not just for the bonus experience quotient, but because the fruit starts to soften so fast this time of year, you’re not likely to get anything of better quality. Northforker.com produced this list of spots you can harvest your own, and Hank’s in Southampton is a favorite for South Forkers. The sweetest strawberry, explained Billy Halsey of the Green Thumb, should have a dark sheen on the outside and red on the inside. “Look for the ones that have their calices standing,” he said, referring to the green petals around the strawberry stem.
So while another week or so remains until local cherries arrive, followed by blueberries, raspberries and the remaining avalanche of fruit, we top, rinse and pack the red jewels into plastic bags destined for the freezer. They will form the flavor foundation of smoothies, top yogurt and breakfast cereal and oatmeal and be the cooling afternoon snack we’ll crave in July and August. The FeedFeed offered up its photo-forward inspiration and recipe for strawberry jam bars. And a neighbor, feeling behind, is threatening to host a strawberry ice cream making party this weekend, which could be the making of a new tradition.