Picking your own strawberries is a dangerous game. What starts out as good, clean fun plucking berries from their bush quickly escalates into a manic race against everyone else at the patch to pick the most and the best berries, leaving me with scratched limbs, stained lips and way too many berries.
STRAWBERRY BUTTER. Photos by Claire Lower.
"It's fine. I love strawberries. I'll eat them all!" I'll proclaim as I schlep a flat or five back to the car. "Berries are just so good! Nature's lollies! Haha!" I'll continue, not without a hint of panic in my eyes. "I'll make a pie!"
But I don't make a pie. What usually happens is this: For the first few days, I start off eating strawberries at a promising pace. Then I forget about them on the third or fourth day and, when I see them the next time I open the fridge, I'm like, "Oh, right, the pie," and then I grab a Diet Coke, close the fridge, and watch Netflix. I repeat this song and dance for a few days, until the berries start to look a little worse for wear.
Lookin' a little iffy.
You know what I mean. They haven't gone bad, not yet — they're still completely edible. They just don't look appealing. There are mushy spots, and they have lost that bright, ruby-like appearance that lured you into picking so many goddamn berries in the first place. At this stage, some may feel like they have failed, like they have wasted summer's most precious commodity. They may be tempted to just toss the berries and hide their shame, but this would be folly.
Luckily, there are several things you can do with strawberries that have seen better, firmer, more beautiful days, and restore you to your rightful place as the bad berry queen you truly are.
Macerate Them Into a Sauce
Maceration is simply the softening of a food by soaking it in a liquid, but the cool thing about juicy fruits is that, with just a spoonful of sugar, they can be self-macerating. Using the power of osmosis — a phenomenon where water molecules move through a semipermeable membrane from a less concentrated solution into a more concentrated one to equalise the concentration of the solute on both sides of the membrane — you can draw water out of the berries by chopping them up and tossing them with just a little sugar to coat.
Leave the sugar-coated berries alone for about half an hour, and you'll have a sweet strawberry sauce ready for shortcakes, ice cream, or to top a variety of breakfast carbs.
Compound Them Into Butter
Compound butters are actually a great vehicle for all sorts of bonus produce. Herbs, garlic, whatever you need to use up you can probably make into a compound butter, and strawberries are no exception.
Just wash and chop your strawberries, cutting away any truly icky parts, and blend them with the following.
For 1/3 cup of chopped berries, you will need:
- 100g of unsalted, room temperature butter, cut into little cubes
- Two tablespoons of honey
- The zest of one large lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla
Add everything but the strawberries to a food processor and blend until smooth and fluffy. Add strawberries and pulse until the butter is pink but there are still visible bits of berry strewn throughout. Scrape the butter out onto a sheet of parchment, roll it tight into a log, and chill in the fridge until it's firm. Strawberry butter will keep a couple of weeks in the fridge, or a year in the freezer, but I doubt it will last that long because it is so good on most bread-based things.
Muddle Them Into a Drink
Strawberries make any beverage more summery and, once muddled, all cosmetic flaws are taken care of. Just mash them up in the bottom of a cocktail shaker before building the rest of your beverage, and then shake and strain as usual. This, my friends, is how a true strawberry daiquiri is made, no Jimmy Buffet-branded blender needed. (You can also muddle them and add them to like, lemonade, but I figure you'll just add booze to that lemonade.)
Freeze Them Into Pops
The only thing more refreshing than strawberry-flavoured liquid is frozen strawberry-flavoured liquid, and chopped or mashed berries lend a beautiful colour and flavour to popsicles. Actually, if you have enough of them, you don't even need any extra liquid. Just chop and macerate them as described above, blend, and pour them into popsicle moulds. If you want to overwhelm yourself with freshness, add a little lime juice in there, along with some zest.
Blend Them Into Your Morning Smoothie
This one is a no-brainer. Just chuck the ugly berries into a blender with your usual smoothie (or smoothie bowl?) base for extra fruity flavour. You can also chop and freeze them in little bags to make morning mealtime prep easier.
I'm not a huge fan of overly Instagrammable foods — I tend to prefer aggressively beige fare — but even I have to admit that there's something extremely enticing about those colourful acai smoothie bowls that seem to be so popular with the clean-eating set.
So, next time you're at the strawberry patch (or store that has a good sale on strawberries) feel free to go absolutely crazy. Even if you don't eat them during their peak, there are still a ton of tasty ways to consume them all, and consuming your berry haul is how you win summer.