Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The 411 on Local Strawberries

Seascape Strawberries at Willie Green's
For a brief, bountiful moment, we are swimming in strawberries. Real strawberries. Meaning, ones with sweetness and flavor that require no added sugar when sliced over ice cream. I treated myself to these Seascape Berries at Willie Green's because I personally subscribe to the smaller-is-better philosophy when it comes to strawberries and blueberries, and the Seascapes were tiny. I was not disappointed. "Sugar bombs," we call them at our house. So ripe we are obligated to eat them the day of.

As I mentioned last week, I've been reading a book about the horrors of commercially-grown tomatoes, which I'll eventually cover in a detailed review, but in the meantime, author Barry Estabrook argues that the "focus on making the [commercially-bred] tomato bigger and firmer" has come at the cost of flavor. "They've essentially taken the package and added water. Strawberries are the same story, but tomatoes are probably the worst example" (p. 149). The strawberry mention caught my eye because I couldn't agree more. Several years ago, when the Washington State strawberry crop was hit hard, I was horrified to find California commercial strawberries being served up at the Bellevue Strawberry Festival. Over-sized, hard, flavorless, and tart, conventionally-grown California strawberries are not a reason to celebrate. Especially when you consider those unappealing Frankenberries consistently make the "Dirty Dozen" list of pesticide-laden produce. To my nine-year-old's dismay, our family goes without fresh strawberries until we can have the real thing, locally and seasonally. Ask our farmers about varieties and whether their berries are grown spray-free!

Besides being delicious, our local Market strawberries are also geographically educational. I asked Kai at Hedlin Family Farms why Shuksan strawberries were called Shuksan strawberries.

Kai: Because of Mount Shuksan. [Manages not to say, "duh!"]
Oh, *that* Mt. Shuksan. Not exactly Mt. Baker.

UFJ: What?

Kai: Mount Shuksan in Skagit County. You know, like Hood, Rainier...

UFJ: I never heard of it! I think one of these is not like the other.

Kai: Have you ever climbed it?

UFJ: Maybe it's because I'm from California.

Other Customer: I've never heard of Mount Shuksan either.

Sure enough, when I asked Market Director Lori Taylor if she'd ever heard of Mt. Shuksan, she looked at me like I'd asked her if she ever heard of Issaquah. "Of course I know Mt. Shuksan! You Californians!" In my defense, my husband, born and raised a Washingtonian, went totally blank over this supposedly-famous, strawberry-inspiring mountain: "Hood, Rainier, and Shuksan? It's not exactly Mt. Baker!" I guess "Baker Strawberries" didn't have quite the same ring. And Not-Exactly-Mt-Baker Strawberries also got the big Veto somewhere along the line.

In any case, we can all agree the variety is delicious and worth grabbing over the next couple weeks, along with the fleeting Rainier and Titan cherries.

A quick review on freezing berries:

  1. Wash gently.
  2. Hull (or just cut off the stem)
  3. Set them individually (not touching) on a cookie sheet in the freezer.
  4. When frozen, pick them off and put them in a freezer bag. Ready for use, the rest of the year 'round.
See you this Thursday and Saturday, rain or shine. And grab those half-flats while you can!