I’ve been mulling over this post for a while now, trying to decide if I would share it or not. Not necessarily the actual recipe, but the strawberries behind it, because there’s something I have to say about them and I know it’s going to make me unpopular…
A couple weeks ago, I read a blog post on a locavore blog about their first experience with locally-grown strawberries. The jist of the story is that, while the author originally scoffed the tiny rubies for their minuscule size, she discovered they beheld a nearly orgasmic taste experience and she simply could not get enough of them. After reading the post, I was excited, too. I HAD to get some local berries to see for myself what I had been missing!
So I did. I went right to the farmers’ market the next time it met and bought not only locally-grown strawberries, but locally grown organic strawberries. Look at me now! I was finally following the Dirty Dozen‘s recommendations, despite it costing me $6 for that quart of not-so-happy looking berries. They had to be better though, right? I felt virtuous as I carried my prized possession to the car, careful not to spill a single jewel from my treasure chest.
As soon as I sat down in the driver’s seat, I plucked a berry from the basket, sure of what was to come. I chewed. Chewed some more. Then puzzled, looked at the quart, searching for answers. Trying again, I plucked an even more vermilion berry, this one surely a ripe specimen that had to be full of that deliciousness that can only be found in locally-grown berries that don’t have the tell-tale white inside that give away the fact that they’ve been juiced up on chemicals to make them grow bigger and faster. (Though, hey, didn’t that one have some white inside it?) Again, I picked from the container and chewed thoughtfully. Then sat back in defeat.
These were not an orgasmic experience. They were rosy red, but they barely tasted like strawberries at all.
Is it my inexperience that is to blame? Was what I eating from the grocery store brainwashing me about what strawberries are supposed to taste like, and now I was a tainted lemming, unable to discern the real deal from the fake crap shoved down my throat by the big wigs? Did my taste buds finally succumb to the dangers of pesticides after all, ruining me forever for this crimson crop?
To be fair, I’ve grown strawberries before. I know what a hot berry plucked from the plant tastes like. I know the value of growing your own and trying to eat locally. It had been a rainy few weeks and maybe that was the cause of my dissatisfaction. So I tried again.
This time, I took my children strawberry picking. Never mind the fact that I’m gimping around in an ankle-foot orthosis right now–I was going to do this! I excitedly accepted our box from the farmers and limped off to the fields, kids running down the path ahead of me.
The fields were filled with the intoxicating aroma of strawberry shortcake. I wanted to bury my nose in every plant and take in every bit of the delicious bouquet presented in the hot afternoon sun. This would surely be our authentic experience. Not only were we buying from a farm less than 10 miles from our house, we were picking them, too. The berries don’t get fresher than this!
We hauled home 4 pounds of strawberries that day, much to the children’s delight. I promptly turned most of them into homemade low-sugar strawberry jam–farm to jar in less than 7 hours. And while I was proud of myself for doing the “right” thing, and the jam tasted great, it all felt very hollow.
Consistently, I have been able to acquire better-tasting strawberries from the grocery store. This doesn’t jive, however, with what vehement locavores insist to be the truth. Even when I grew my own (which I’m trying to do this year, as well, with craptacular results, thanks to all the rain), they could not compete. Using my nose as my guide, I am able to find sweeter, tastier berries at Big Y. Yes, those behemoths we are warned against, the strawberries on ‘roids, juicy and meaty, but supposedly tasteless. As long a fragrant bouquet exists of sweet berry goodness, the berries in the box are as tasty as they smell. It goes completely against what we’ve been told.
I’m not going to tell you what you should do: only you can decide that. But I will say that you need to determine for yourself what is best for you, because blindly following others’ recommendations does not necessarily lead you down the best road. Figure it out for yourself. And buy what tastes good to you. Why waste your money on something that is not palate-pleasing, just so you can feel virtuous about where you spent your money? Yes, you should try to support your local farms, but not to the point of sacrificing taste. What’s the point of eating something if it doesn’t taste good?
That said, when I made the strawberry reduction that flavors this Cheesepie, I used a mixture of those organic local berries mentioned earlier and the Driscoll big berries from the grocery store. The resulting sauce is all the best parts of strawberries, without any of the disappointment. It is a little time-consuming, but it’s mostly left alone–it does not need your constant attention. I used Bravetart‘s recipe for Strawberry Reduction with a couple minor alterations–I left the berries on the counter for 7 hours to macerate, instead of the 1 hour she recommends. I can’t compare to how she made her reduction, but I’d like to think it made the next part all that much easier since, theoretically, the berries were more broken down before I tried to strain them. I also used turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw), instead of the more-processed white sugar. Lastly, I substituted orange flower water for the rose flower water. I think this enhanced the strawberries beautifully and I would definitely make it that way again.
I originally intended to use the reduction to make marshmallows, but I couldn’t stop eating it and never got around to that use. You could, though, if Cheesepie isn’t your thing. Or top your ice cream with it. Or drizzle it over waffles. Or spread it on English muffins, like I did. It keeps for about a week in the fridge, if you don’t eat it all up on the first day.
And I swear, this is Strawberry Cheesepie and not Strawberry No-Bake Cheesecake. Because really, it’s in a pie plate. It’s in a pie crust. I’m calling it pie, gosh-darnit! (Though that may just be to narrowly qualify it for Gluten-Free Girl’s Internet Pie Party…)