Although you can get strawberries year round, those berries have been bred to withstand shipping and storage. Most of the berries you see at your local grocery store started their life on Driscoll's Farms in California- the largest producer of the Strawberries in the nation. Americans love their strawberries, having gone from consuming 1.7 pounds per capita in 1970 to 4.4 lbs in 2001. So in order to eat more of them more often we've had to sacrifice taste.
When I read on Farmfresh.org that Smolak farms in North Andover had local strawberries for picking, I leapt for the fields.
I admit about a quarter of the berries never made it into the picking basket. Each sun-warmed berry burst with flavor and melted in your mouth. There was no way these would make it onto a refrigerated truck. They needed to worked with quickly so I zipped home and turned these berries into a strawberry basil gelee with sour cream panna cotta.
|©Gelology - photos by Anthony Eng|
The backbone of the recipe was fresh strawberries, basil, and a touch of Frangoli wild strawberry liqueur. I washed 500 grams of strawberries and placed them in a double boiler. I added some lemon juice and superfine sugar and gently heated them for thirty minutes. The juice was spectacular. After adding some basil water and liqueur I gelled the juice in some rectangular Savarin molds.
I wanted to add that element of cream that goes so well with berries so I made a sour cream panna cotta. For garnish, I added a sliver of fresh strawberry, a basil leaf curl, and a sprinkle of fresh ground black pepper.
While the local berries were flourishing, I made several batches of these and to get me through the season on un-strawberries, I froze large quantities of the juice. Until then, let the next berry season begin... raspberries!