Strawberry Sky

The Wooded Outdoors

GUEST: Deborah Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist
            Strawberry Hunters #1-#5
            Bearded Man

[DD and Scavengers tromping through forest]

DEBORAH DUCHON: Everybody get some?
DD: Well, good. Try one out. [bites a strawberry] Mmm. Aren't they good?
SHs: Mmm. Delicious.
SH#1: Mmm. So why can't grocery store berries taste this good?
SH#2: Yeah?
DD: Unfortunately, strawberries grown for the mass market have been bred for size and ship-ability, not flavor.
BEARDED MAN: Is it true that strawberries are shrouded in myth and legend?
SH 1 & 2: [look at BM eerily]
DD: Oh, yes they are. It used to be thought they couldn't even be domesticated. So people assumed they were grown in the woods by elves and woodland spirits who could be real mischievous and take revenge against you for picking their berries. So people used to leave them offerings, baskets of berries, hanging from fence posts and even from the horns of cows.
BM: It don't take no nutritional anthropologist to see these here woods is some creepy, um hm.
SS#3: Maybe we should leave some?
SS#4: Yeah, just to be safe.
DD: Okay everybody, lets just keep going. I think I saw some sassafras.
SS#3: [leaves basket]
SS#1: [spooked by BM, dumps his strawberries in basket and runs]

    [removing beard and snickers] That "creepy woods" line gets them every time. But you know when it comes to strawberries, I say all's well that ends good eats.

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Strawberry Buyers

    I can't think of a better way to enjoy wild strawberries than straight up ... well, maybe with a splash of cream as in the English manner ... [a suction tipped arrow hits the truck door window with a message] Hmm.

Dear Yank,
    The only proper cream for strawberries is clotted cream such as that produced in the dairy lands of Devonshire. See map. There, unpasteurized milk is cooked until a solid layer of cream forms on the surface. This is scraped off and spread onto scones at tea.

   The Merry Men of the Forest.

P.S. How dare you pinch our berries you wicked bloody sot.


    Wow. There really is magic in the forest, isn't there. But you know, clotting cream is not that cumbersome, okay? The trick is to buy heavy cream that's been pasteurized but not ultra-pasteurized because the fat droplets in ultra-pasteurized cream have been broken down so little, they can't be separated out.
    Now set a coffee filter basket over a bowl or measuring cup and fill almost to the brim with heavy cream. Refrigerate this for six to eight hours. Now during that time, a good bit of the whey will pass through into the cup below leaving with you with a slightly thickened or clotted cream up top. Now just scrape down the sides of the filter and repeat, scraping every couple of hours until the finished consistency resembles that of softened cream cheese.

Coffee Filter Basket Over A Bowl Or Measuring Cup

Fill Almost To Brim With Pasteurized Heavy Cream

Refrigerate For 6-8 hrs.


Clotted Cream

Scrape Sides Down Every 2 hrs.

Finished Product Should Be The Consistency Of Soft Cream Cheese

    Devour with berries or refrigerate and use within a couple of days. I'm not saying it's the best thing in the world for ya, I'm just saying it's the best thing in the world.

"Doubtless God could have made a better berry,
but doubtless God never did." -William Butler

    If foraging the forest isn't your fashion, consider harvesting your berries in one of the many strawberry farms that open to the public during the spring and summer. There, the pickings are easy and you pay by the pound. Of course, if a drive-by scenario is more to your liking, just keep you eyes peeled for one of the many roadside purveyors that pop up during the height of the season.


    [hops up on back of truck with strawberries laid out for sale]
    Ah. Most of the strawberries cultivated in the United States are very finely tuned hybrids. Their great-great-great-great-great grand berries were tiny American woodland strawberries and a much larger strain brought to France from Chile in the 18th century by a military spy.

AB: Hey folks. The big flats are 20. We'll go 15 on the baskets and, let's say, 5 on the pints there.

    By the way, strawberries grow on runners, little vines right along the ground. And when they sit in the dirt they rot very quickly. So growers like to put a lot of straw in the fields for the berries to rest on. That's why they call them "straw" berries.

SB: [take some berries and hand AB cash]
AB: Ah, good choice. You guys have a great day.

    [snapping money] Easy money.
    Remember, just because the guy manning the till might look like an extra from Green Acres, doesn't mean he picked his berries in a field over there. He may have picked them up at the very same wholesaler where your mega-mart gets their berries. So always ask where the berries came from. And remember, give them a smell. [smells one] If they don't smell like anything, odds are they're not going to taste like anything. [eats one] They are good, though.

AB: Ya'll come back

American strawberry varieties include the
Camerosa, Chandler, Selva, and Diamente.

The Kitchen

    When you gobble a strawberry, you're actually consuming about 200 fruits. I say 'about' because the average strawberry has about 200 seeds or achenes on its exterior. These are the real fruit of the strawberry. This thing [the rest of the strawberry] is called the receptacle and it's little more than a swollen stem. Now the entire device is edible but in more mature strawberries, the receptacle is hollow and the cap and hull are hard, white and all but flavorless. So they gotta go.

Seeds Or Achenes


    Now cut berries will water log very, very quickly, so be sure to give them a cold water bath before you begin any surgery. Now as far as surgery goes, let's consider that once breached, berry cells release ascorbic acid oxidase which eats the vitamin C in nearby cells thus turning the entire perimeter a lovely shade of brown. So what we need is a tool that will extract the hull quickly and cleanly while leaving the surrounding tissue intact.

    Now there are a lot of tools designed for this job. This is a strawberry huller. Doesn't work. This, strawberry huller. Doesn't work. This is the star tip from my piping bag, okay? It's used to apply whipped cream to pies and cakes. It looks like this. That's another show. It's also the best strawberry huller I know of. Just take your berry, twist off the leaves, and then insert with a twist and then flip out. Now since it's conical in shape, you can use it on large and small berries. Just push in a little deeper on a big berry. Notice, also, that if you turn the tip properly, the hull stays in and you can just slide it out. Makes good compost.

Star Tip For A Piping Bag

Remove Leaves

Insert & Twist

    Oh, an acid bath will prevent further color loss. Lemon water is the norm but I prefer red wine, because it's acidic, but not so much that it insults the berries' sensibilities. I really find that it enhances the flavor even of off-season berries. A little vino transfusion works very nicely. And of course wine's red, so it works with the palate and the pallet.

1 Bottle Of Red Wine For 2 Pints Of Strawberries

In France strawberries are usually eaten with
wine; in Italy, they prefer a splash of vinegar.

The Kitchen

    For a simple yet elegant dessert addition, grab your trusty mushroom or egg slicer and slice your strawberries tip to stern. Then add some additional software: honey, some lemon zest and a little—ah, make it a lot—of black pepper. There.

1/4 Cup Orange
Blossom Honey

1 tsp. Lemon Zest

1 tsp. Fresh Ground
Black Pepper

    Now we're going to let these marinade [sic, macerate] for about two hours. And after that, you'll have yourself a versatile topping with a wide range of applications. You can fold them into whipped cream, put them on angel food cake or strawberry short cake or just plain yogurt ... that's another show.

Marinate [sic, Macerate]
For 2hrs.

    If you've got an application that would profit from a softer texture, add about a cup and a half of sugar to this, okay? Then refrigerate for a couple of hours. Since the solution outside the berries will become denser than the one inside, the laws of osmosis will dictate that the inner juices will move from inside the berry to outside the berry and that will leave the tissues softer.

1 1/2 Cups Sugar


    There are quite a few recipes that suggest speeding this process with the application of heat. I don't know. I think that cooked strawberries just taste ... cooked. Heh, heh. In a few hours, we're going to be able to contemplate my favorite summertime dessert, a pudding that isn't.

The average American eats 4.85 pounds of strawberries a year.

    Ah, a summer berry pudding. Almost as much fun to make as it is to eat. Allow us to present the software. We've got one-half of the macerated strawberry mixture. It's about a pint of strawberries when they were fresh. We also have a loaf of bread—that's 16 pieces—sandwich slice.  I prefer potato bread because it's very firm but challah* would be all right, too. Four of these pieces of bread have been buttered.

1/2 Recipe For
Macerated Berries

16 Slices Potato Bread, 4 Are Buttered On One Side

    Is there hardware? Oh, there's hardware. But I have to tell you, some of it's a little unorthodox. For instance, we've got four 13.5 ounce cans. Now I like tomato cans because they're usually smooth on the side. Notice that we have removed both ends. But we have retained the services of four of the discarded disks. The edges are sharp, kids, so be careful. That's why I use the magnet.
    We'll also need 4 standard soda cans and, since we're not going to open them, the flavor doesn't really matter. Last but not least, we will need a building platform. I've got a half sheet pan, here, but you could use a cookie sheet as long as it's got a lip. And we also have one sheet of wax or parchment paper.

4 Soup Cans, Opened On Both Ends

4 Cans Of Soda

Half Sheet Pan Lined With Parchment Paper

    Now we begin by cutting rounds out of the bread using the can. Just place the can right in the middle, push straight down and twist.

Cut One Round From Each Piece Of Bread

    Now save the buttered pieces for last. And when you cut them, don't remove them from the cans. Remove the [exterior] bread thusly. Now check the cans. Make sure you've got butter looking up at you all around. We do. And we've got three pieces of bread for each can. So we're cleared for the strawberries.

Save The Buttered
Pieces For Last

Do Not Remove Buttered Rounds From Can

    Now we're looking at about 2 tablespoons of strawberries and their juice for each layer. You don't have to be scientific about it. Just fill your spoon and dump. You want to cover it. We add one layer of bread to each can. There. And we continue with another layer of strawberries, same amount, about two tablespoons topped with the final bread round.

Spoon In 2 Tbs. Macerated Strawberries

Add 1 Bread Round
To Each Can

Continue With Another Layer Of Strawberries

    Now the lids right on top. You probably notice that the cans are already leaking a little bit of juice from the bottom but that's okay. Perfect.

Place The Lid Back
On Each Can

    Now these are probably going to seep a little bit so I'm going to pull them away from each other to let the runoff have some place to go. Okay. And now for the weights. [places the soda cans on top of the strawberry layers in the can] Perfect size, perfect weight. Now the weight is very, very important because that is what is going to allow the moisture, the protein in the bread, the starch in the bread, and the pectin in the berries to create a solid mass. It's a very miraculous thing. Eight hours in the refrigerator will do the trick, although you can let it go a little longer if you like.

Weight With A Can Of Soda

Refrigerate 8 hrs.

    [tries to get up from the floor] My leg's asleep.

8 Hours Later

    There. You can see we have lost a little bit of juice but by-and-large our buttered bread bottoms have worked just fine. Now the fun part. Take your spatula and just work it right under the dessert. Transfer to a plate. There. Now hold the soda can and remove the bottom can. Ahh. Looks delicious, don't it?

    Too bad I just can't leave well enough alone. So I am reaching for the clotted cream, or actually I think I'll use whipped cream this time. See, the old piping tip is back, this time connected to the bottom corner of zip top bag which inside we have hidden our delicious whipped cream. So ... [squeezes cream on top of dessert]. And, heck, while we're here we'll add a strawberry. Yeah. Now that's good eats.
    Excuse me, we need to be alone.

Whipped Cream

Delicious though they are, strawberries are one of the top 12 allergenic foods.

The Kitchen

    Come the Ides of March, really, really great strawberries become very affordable. So I always earmark a few pints for suspended animation that they may comfort me in the winter of my discontent. Suspended animation, of course, means freezing. And that's a bit of a challenge because home freezers don't really get that cold. I mean, sure, they freeze, but when they do the water in things like berries freezes very slowly and that creates big, long, jagged ice crystals which can break through cell walls. Which is not a bad thing when you're frozen but when thawing comes, this is what happens. [holds a freezer bag of syrupy strawberries] Not that this is bad. This kind of strawberry will work fine if you're making a sauce or a syrup. But if you have a brighter flavor and firmer feel in mind, you need to freeze the berries very, very quickly so that the ice crystals stay small. Smaller crystals, less damage. Makes sense.
     Now to pull this off we need 3 things. We need strawberries that have been properly chilled to begin with. We need a very frigid source of cold and we need an insulated place to bring them together. As for the berries, you want to go with small to medium specimens because they usually have a slightly lower water content and that's good. Just wash them, leave the hulls on and lay them out in a colander with several layers of paper towels [i.e. layers of strawberries with towels between] to dry.

    Park this in the back of your refrigerator for at least 4 hours, okay? Bringing the strawberries to about 40 degrees means a shorter, thermal trip to the ice age. The quicker the trip, the less ice crystal's gonna form.

Chill Washed Berries For At Least 4 hrs.

    Now as for the frigidity, we will get that compliments of dry ice. Mmm. The stuff of a hundred million B grade sci-fi films. [drinks cup of water with dry ice in it] Ahh. Refreshing. They call it dry ice because it's actually made from carbon dioxide which sublimates or turns from a solid to a gas at about 109 degrees ... below zero ... Fahrenheit. That means that this block will give you frostbite quicker than sticking your tongue to a flag pole on top of K2 on New Year's Eve.

    So use heavy-duty kitchen gloves, insulated. If you do not have any, well then go break out the ski gear. This is about a five pound block and that is going to make very quick work of a couple of quarts of berries.

Use Heavy-duty Gloves

To keep mosquitoes off your garden party,
park a block of dry ice in a corner of the yard.

    Since direct contact is the most efficient mode of heat transfer, it makes a lot of sense to pulverize our dry ice. And since this is nothing more than compressed CO2 snow, it crushes a lot easier than an equal amount of ice, regular water ice, would. Now put this into a metal pot and listen to it sing because it will. It'll make a little bit of noise.

    Time to add the berries. Now depending on the berries' size, moisture content and sugar content, it's going to take anywhere from half an hour to an hour for these to freeze rock hard. I'm just going to stir them in. You want to get as much contact with the dry ice as possible. You're going to hear some funny sounds as the CO2 sublimates against the metal. There. Now right into the cooler we go. There.

Stir To Distribute Dry Ice

Place In Cooler Immediately

    Now an important note. If your cooler has a latch like this on it, do not latch it, okay? Because dry ice expands at about a hundred times in volume as it sublimates or turns to gas. So if you had an airtight seal and a latch, you could have [makes explosion noise and gesture] Not Good Eats.

Do Not Latch Cooler!!

30 Minutes Later

    Hmm. [drops rock hard strawberry on plate] I'd say that's frozen, wouldn't you? Hmm.

    Of course we can't leave these in here forever. We are going to have to move them over to the regular freezer. And that's going to take a little more hardware. Freezer bags. Heavy-duty, labeled with today's date. But don't open them out here. There's air out here. Put them down in the bottom of the cooler to open them, and that will be a good thing because there's nothing but carbon dioxide down here, right? So there won't be any air in the bags. And if there's no air in the bags, there's not going to be any oxidation during the re-storage process and they'll probably be a lot less in the way of freezer burn.

Freezer Bags Labeled With Storage Date


    Of course, you don't want to stick your head too far down in here or you could pass out from lack of oxygen, fall in, freeze your face off. HA, HA, HA, HA. That wouldn't be funny.

    So, you can get about a year of storage out of these in your freezer. The best thing is, is that when thawed slowly in the refrigerator they'll come out looking pretty much like this [holds a nice berry up and eats it]. That's a good berry. And of course if you get them out while they're still just a little bit frozen, you can make them even better.

Will Store For Up
To A Year In Freezer

Look for dry ice at your local market or ice house.

[has a paper clip opened up on two bends at 90° and pierces the open end with a strawberry]

Pierce big end of berry with paperclip...

[dunks in apricot mixture]
[places on a plate with cut side down arranged in a nice pattern]

Dunk in 1 cup apricot preserve, melted with 1 Tbs. orange liqueur in hot water bath.

Strawberry leaves can be brewed like tea. The resulting
liquid isn't very tasty, but it is a fine laxative.

The Kitchen Table

GUEST: David Traylor, Crew Members #1 to #5

    Besides being delicious, strawberries pack a wallop of antioxidants which make them frontline fighters in the battle against free radicals. Now what exactly is a free radical? Well, let's say my crewmembers here are molecules that make up your body and their desserts are electrons in their molecular structure. [AB removes DT's dessert from the table] Now, David here has lost an electron, either as a result of metabolism or exposure to toxins. That means he's a free radical. He's an unstable molecular character desperate to find himself another electron.

DAVID TRAYLOR: [really upset, takes a dessert from next person]

    Well, David's gotten his stability back. But his neighbor is now a free radical herself. And the transfer of material may have done some permanent cellular damage.

CREW MEMBERS: [continue to "steal" the dessert from their neighbor around the table]

    Ohh, this chain reaction is what makes free radicals such dastardly villains. Now suppose this was going on in your lungs or your DNA. I mean, you might feel fine now but next year you wake up and you got cancer. Luckily, antioxidants can donate electrons without becoming free radicals themselves. So the more antioxidants in your body, the better off you're going to be.

    We hope we've managed to renew your lust for the fruit of love, the strawberry. Ubiquitous though they may be, strawberries are utterly meek and deserve our undivided appetites. Buy them in season. Heck, pick them yourself if you can. Don't be afraid to freeze some for later. And give them a soak whenever possible to deepen their flavor. And of course, don't forget to lavish them with cream from time to time.
    See you next time on Good Eats.

AB: Mmm. How you guys doing?
CM: Mmmmm.

The Kitchen

[turns around eating greedily with clotted cream all over his face]

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Proofreading by Sue Libretti

*K2: A mountain located in Karakoram China-Pakistan, elevation 28,250 feet, also called Mount Godwin-Austen or Chogori

**challah: egg-rich yeast-leavened bread that is usually braided or twisted before baking and is traditionally eaten by Jews on the Sabbath and holidays

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010