Sunday, May 23, 2010

Strawberry Fields

Last week’s experiment with strawberry rhubarb crisp was only the beginning. As it so happens, my daughter and I spent the weekend visiting our cousins at their mountain home in Georgia –where strawberry season is in its full glory.

En route to the house, we hatched a plan to visit a nearby strawberry-picking farm. As my sister-in-law, Jodi, described the life-altering experience of tasting these berries fresh off the vine, our kids alternated between asking “How much longer?” and shouting out ideas for how to devour our pending bounty. “Strawberry shortcake! Milkshakes! Chocolate-covered strawberries!”

We arrived only to discover that while mounds of glorious berries were for sale, the season for picking was over. Disappointed, we bought 8 quarts of the pre-picked stuff, and shifted our attention to other local produce. Meanwhile, the kids sneaked enough free samples of the berries to take those good farmers for a loss. OK, actually, that was me. Point is, as my daughter, the eternal optimist, summed up: “We may not have picked any strawberries, but we sure had fun.”

In a small corner of my mind, I remembered having an affinity for all rituals strawberry. When we were very small, living in Ithaca, Jeanne and her friends would often take us kids picking in the fields scattered around Tompkins County. We would each get a cardboard carton to fill, and –like Blueberry’s For Sal— I would eat one strawberry for each that fell into the carton. Kaplink! We usually wound up living off of strawberries for days. Mom would make shortcakes, pancakes, and even jam (that was one particularly crafty year, I think).

When we moved to Westchester, mom recruited another friend –the mother of my best friend, Lizzy Donius — to throw a bunch of kids in the car to search for strawberry fields. Knowing my Mom, she probably had a vague idea of a field somewhere upstate, but not necessarily a concrete address. As we drove up the Taconic for what felt like an endless period, we took turns whining, “How much longer?” And Mrs. Donius laughed,” “Jeanne, we’re going to Albany!” Mom brushed us all off as mere distractions, insisting the fields were probably at the next stop light.

Eventually, we made it. Though older, we kids threw ourselves into the picking with the same enthusiasm as in the Finger Lakes. Mom marveled at one of my friends, Ilyse, who arrived in pristine white shorts but returned home with pink ones instead.

I don’t think we ever went back to the strawberry fields. Perhaps they really were too damned far. Nevertheless, our strawberry picking adventure embodied the spirit of Jeanne. Be it the mall, a random drive, or a visit to a nearby town, Mom taught us the distinct pleasure of minimally planned fun. She never had any qualms about including a car full of kids on an outing, nor did she count an unexpected outcome as failure. A closed strawberry field or botched recipe could easily be reinvented into something else –or better yet serve as fodder for a good story. So this week, I give to you a recipe for Strawberry Crisp Sauce (or Strawberry Crisp Gone Awry), a recipe borne out of a minimally planned day shared with my sunny, sweet girl and our beloved cousins. Enjoy the fruit of our leisure.

In return, I would love to hear your memories. Did you ever have a day where things didn’t go as planned, but turned out better? What happened?

Strawberry Crisp Sauce

This is a hybrid of Mark Bittman’s fruit compote and a basic crisp. At the last minute, I decided not to boil the strawberries and syrup down, opting to simply bake them with a crisp topping for one hour. The result: A runny, yet delicious, warm topping for ice cream –or perhaps strawberry soup. The crisp adds a whole new element to your ice cream sundae!

1 ½ lb of fresh strawberries, sliced (or enough to create a heaping mound in pie dish)
½ cup sugar, plus more if needed
½ cup water
Pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
A few Tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon
½ tsp, lemon zest
2/3 cup light brown sugar
½ cup flour
5 Tbsp cold butter, cut into cubes

Pour Strawberry Daiquiri supplied by Brother-in-Law (Told you we were oozing this stuff)
Mix sugar with water in small sauce pan and bring to a boil, mixing to dissolve, let cool and set aside
Combine strawberries with lemon, zest, vanilla, and sugar syrup in pie dish
Combine brown sugar, flour and butter; Mix with fingers until clumps form
Sprinkle topping on strawberries
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.
Serve hot over ice cream or with whipped cream.


  1. I remember that day so well! I honestly think of it every year when the strawberries start arriving. And Alice is a huge blueberries for sal fan. Loving the blog. Your mom had such a great spirit and you capture her perfectly. xoxoxo

  2. ok- somehow I posted this from Kenny's account. classic. It's Lizzy, not Kenny. but for the record, Kenny loves berries too.


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