Strawberry Dreams

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett
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It may be that you are a person who can stay calm in the face of strawberries. I am not such a person.
Every week, we drive by our favorite strawberry field on the way to guitar lessons. For something close to forever, the signboard out front has held one pitiful word: Collards.
I like collards. I even figured out how to get my family to eat copious amounts of collards by putting them in a dip. But they’re not strawberries.
Collards are reality: a little bitter, a little tough, very tough-love good for you. Strawberries are fantasy: sweet, juicy, exuberantly good for you.
That is, at least if they’re local. Every year around Valentine’s Day, our groceries run buy-one-get-one specials on boxes of Florida strawberries. Freakishly big and rimmed in white, these “strawberries” can’t be helped even by cupfuls of sugar, no matter how many years you give that remedy one more try. And I’ve given lots of tries. Even this year, determined to wait until May, I broke down and bought some decent-looking berries at the store. One box was surprisingly good. Emboldened, hopeful, I bought more. “Gotcha!” those berries mocked me.

No more. I admit defeat, and we have waited patiently through a long, cold North Carolina winter. And finally, the sign sang out: Stawberries, May 3!

I’m stocked and ready. I have my baskets. I have my buckets. I have jars, and I have boxes of reduced-sugar Sure-Jell, tough to track down but worth the effort for the best freezer jam I know. I have rice and cream, because one of the best uses of that jam is as a rice pudding mix-in. I have powdered sugar for dipping. In the next few days, I’ll have pie dough in the freezer, whole milk for strawberry gelato (a new gelato book to review came just in time!), and yet more cream for strawberry shortcakes.

Certainly, we’ll eat many berries straight and in our supper salads, but I admit to unkind thoughts when I read yet another nutritionist’s warnings against celebrating the harvest with cream. Summer is coming, when we can eat unadorned melons, blueberries by the handful, and naked, dripping peaches. Spring is made for cream (they almost rhyme!) and no fruit goes better with it than strawberries. A week of bliss after what proved an especially hard winter, then back to moderation: Nutrition at its finest.

Recipe: Jammy Rice Pudding

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