FOOD FOR THOUGHT: It all starts with strawberries

At Saturday’s Steveston Farmers Market, Darlene Tanaka took the Chef in the Market stage with a bowlful of fresh local strawberries and two boiling pots of water.

She explained the canning process as she mixed berries with sugar and pectin, pulled sterilized jars from the boiling bath, used a magic, I mean magnetic, wand to retrieve lids, and finally sealed them with a ring, but not too tightly.

When she answered all the questions, she moved down the table and stood behind six strawberry desserts. Time to judge.

Along with Chef Kieran from The Sweet Spot Bakery in Steveston, Darlene and I picked up a spoon and took the challenge.

Les Wessels brought his beautiful Eton Mess. He told me that he’d gone to Birak Farms (4200 No. 6 Rd. – one of the first farms to have ripe berries) on Friday evening, but they were closed. Saturday morning he arrived at 8 a.m. only to be told that the berries hadn’t yet been picked. He explained his urgent need so he could enter the strawberry dessert contest, so the dear farmer went into the field and picked them.

The South Arm United Church Community Garden submitted their deep-dish strawberry rhubarb pie. Chef Kieran said it would have won first prize if it was just strawberries. He raved about the crust and the crumble.

JoAnn Malysh brought strawberries with lemon cream in phyllo pastry cups. Sharon Wickham offered up a strawberry coffee cake, and chef Ralphe Legay, who teaches cooking classes in Richmond, submitted and assembled his elegant strawberry peppermint mousse in chocolate cups.

In the end, it was Chris Evans who won us over with the simplest of recipes. She almost didn’t enter, but when she found local berries at Kins on Friday, she asked if it wasn’t too late to enter. Her strawberry ice-cream was so full of fresh local flavour that we gave it top marks. Chris, by the way, won the blueberry recipe contest 12 years ago. I still make her blueberry pie every summer. She says she gets invited to a lot of potlucks over summer because everyone knows she’ll bring one or the other.

Chris Evans’ Strawberry Ice Cream

Blend or liquidize one lb of fresh, local strawberries (it doesn’t work with California berries) with one tbsp of lemon juice and one cup of sugar. Stir in two cups of coffee cream (18 per cent). Freeze for 2-3 hours. Remove and stir thoroughly. Refreeze. (To reduce fat content: Increase strawberries by half a pound and use half-and-half cream instead of coffee cream. Or, as Chris says, “Eat half the amount you planned to.”

The South Arm United Church Community Garden’s Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie

  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 2 cups sliced fresh local strawberries
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 9-inch pie shell, unbaked
  • Crumb Topping:
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter

Whisk together flour and sugar. Cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs.

For the filling, whisk together sugar, flour, salt and egg until well blended. Add fruit and stir to coat. Scrape fruit into a pie shell and dot with butter. Sprinkle topping evening over filling. Bake in bottom third of oven at 425˚F for 10-12 minutes. Reduce heat to 350˚F and bake until top is golden and filling is bubbling, about 40-50 minutes. Let cool for a few hours.

Chef Ralphe’s Strawberry Mousse

Serves 6

  • 1 1/2 envelope of gelatin powder
  • 1/4 cup of cold water
  • 1 oz orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 cups of local fresh strawberries, washed and sliced
  • 1/2 cup of granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 cup of whipping cream
  • Extra whole berries for garnish

Add water to gelatin in small saucepan and allow swelling for a couple of minutes prior to dissolving over low heat. Stir until gelatin is dissolved (about one minute). Pour strawberries, gelatin-water mixture, 1.4 cups of the sugar, lemon juice and orange liqueur into a blender or food processor. Pulse on puree until berries are incorporated into the mixture. Pour into a medium bowl and chill for one hour.

Whip cream and remaining sugar on low until sugar is absorbed. Raise speed to high and whip until soft peaks form. Fold whipped cream into strawberry mixture and place into large piping bag with star tip. Pipe mousse into serving dish, such as a martini glass, with circular rotation so as to build tall peaks. Chill for one hour to set prior to garnishing and serving.

Jo Ann Malysh’s Strawberries with Lemon Cream in Chocolate Phyllo Pastry Cups

Serves 8

  • 6 sheets phyllo pastry
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 250 g spreadable cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup lemon yogurt (she uses Liberte Mediterranean)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp finely grated lemon rind
  • 4 cups (approx) fresh, local strawberries, sliced
  • Icing sugar
  • Small amount of good quality dark chocolate

Thaw phyllo as directed on package (and follow directions re working with the dough). Place 1 sheet on work surface and brush with butter. Lay 2nd sheet over top first and brush with butter. Lay 3rd piece over top 2nd and brush with butter. Cut layered phyllo in half lengthwise and then cut each half crosswise into 4 even pieces. Gently mould into muffin cups (optional: trim excess dough to round off). Repeat to make 16 cups. Bake in 400 F oven for five minutes. They cook very quickly so check frequently. Let cool on rack. Once cool, brush inside bottom and midway up sides with melted chocolate. Let set for one hour.

For the filling, blend together cream cheese, yogurt, sugar and lemon rind until smooth. Divide filling among phyllo cups. Spoon strawberries over filling. Garnish with thin shards of chocolate or drizzle chocolate over strawberries before dusting with icing sugar.

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