I know that yesterday I said today I was going to tell you all about clams, but the thing is I was a little drunk by the time dinner struck and all my pictures turned out blurry, and Grace brought her camera and tripod and took photos but I don’t have them yet so I’ll tell you all about clams tomorrow, or possibly the day after. Today we went out to Westham Island to pick strawberries.
Westham Island is way the hell out there off the highway beyond Ladner, and while it’s not actually that far away in kilometers, to get there you have to travel several long and winding roads and cross a couple of bridges and once you get there you have to try and decide which farm you will go to, and Grace and I wanted to go to the one with the winery. Of course, that’s at the end of another long road, but when we got there, we beheld many wonders. To our delight, it was Strawberry Fest this weekend. In addition to the startling variety of fruit wines available for sale, I was pleased to discover a company that custom-tailors tuxedos for wiener dogs. I don’t have a wiener dog yet, but when I do, he will ALWAYS be snappily dressed.
But that’s not the important thing. The important thing is that it’s now officially strawberry season, which means that it’s summer.
The place we went to was a u-pick kind of place, and you bring your own bucket – pretty standard stuff.
It took me forever to get started, and I grabbed several sharp weeds with my bare hands before getting into things. Agriculture isn’t for me, I decided, and also I don’t much care for squatting. In no time I was using my galoshes as a seat, ambling along the rows with prickly sleeping feet. I’ve revised my dream career to include “not outdoors” in its descriptors. It smelled very nice, like leaves and the odd whiff of berry musk.
And soon I was well into the whole process, shouting across the field to James and Grace whenever I felt so compelled – “OMG, look at these retard-berries!” I’d shout. “Developmentally challenged berries,” Grace would correct. And then when the troupe of annoying British children turned up, I decided I’d best stop shouting “retard!” into the fields, and James agreed.
It didn’t take very long to fill a whole bucket. For me, that is. James ate three times as many berries as he picked, and Grace anal-retentively only picked perfect berries – her berries were all of uniform colour and size. Grace is a better editor than I am, and has a keener eye for detail. My bucket showed an open-minded preference for diversity (read: a tendency toward rushing and impatience).
By the end of it all, I had picked four pounds of berries, paying less than I paid yesterday for half as many.
But what to do with all those berries?! I immediately counted out the prettiest, reddest ones from among the berries at the top of the bucket and dropped them into a bowl and drizzled them with a touch of sugar and just enough cream. They were so soft that they didn’t need to be chewed – I could smash them just by pushing them with my tongue against the roof of my mouth. They tasted precisely how strawberries are supposed to taste, with not a streak of white anywhere inside of them.
As too many strawberries will leave you with a terrible case of the scoots, I’m beginning to wonder what I’ll do with the rest – I think I’d like to make strawberry shortcake, and maybe a batch of muffins, and then freeze some for margaritas. The rest I will eat as they are, or dipped in pepper or sugar or maybe both – I don’t remember at which point the laxative quality of strawberries begins to take effect. Only one way to find out!
In the meantime, here’s my favourite base for strawberry shortcake. It’s a James Beard recipe, and it produces a biscuit, not a cake. But it’s sweet, with a crusty top that contrasts nicely with soft berries and whipped cream. I add cardamom because I like it, but you can omit it if you’d like.
(makes four to six, depending on how big you like them)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. baking powder
- 2 tsp. sugar, plus additional for sprinkling on top
- 1 tsp. cardamom
- 1 – 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1/3 cup melted butter
Preheat your oven to 425°F.
In a bowl, combine your flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, and cardamom. Mix it up, and once it’s mixed, slowly add one cup of the cream. Stir constantly, adding more cream if the dough doesn’t seem like it’s holding together. Once it’s formed a dough, turn it out onto a floured surface, and knead for about a minute. Divide the dough into four to six pieces, and pat down until each is about half an inch thick.
Paint with melted butter, all sides. Place on an ungreased baking sheat, and sprinkle the tops with sugar. The coarser the sugar, the better – I like a nice crunch.
Bake these for about fifteen minutes, or until golden brown.
Serve warm, with fresh berries and a generous dollop of whipped cream.
And now, it’s time for another handful of berries, a glass of wine, and a nap, because agriculture is hard work and squatting makes you tired.