Eatin’ in Season: Berry delicious

Rachel Brownlee is an urban farmer, health and nutrition coach and food blogger. Check out Girl in an Apron to see more recipes like the one below.

It comes as no surprise that seasonal eating is the new rage in foodie culture — and there’s no finer time than the present to eat. Remember when TV dinners were a hip treat, or the days when a tub of margarine in your fridge meant health consciousness? Thank goodness we have moved on, or is it … moved back?

Eating seasonally was once the only option. Families and tribes collected, hunted, or grew what was locally available for each meal. Perhaps an exotic traveler might pass through, trading spices for a clean bed, but for the most part, native, seasonal edibles were the only foods on the table.

In modern times, we have explored other options. State-of-the-art shipping methods have granted us access to bananas, grapes and mangoes year round. So why are many of us opting out of this advancement? Perishables sourced far from home, picked before they are ripe, shipped and gassed to encourage “ripeness,” cannot compare in the slightest to what can be grown fresh, right down the road.

Consider, for example, the strawberry. First bred in Brittany, France in 1740, the common garden strawberry is a cross between Fragaria virginiana from North America, and Fragaria chiloensis from Chile and Argentina, which boasts outstanding flavor and size. Most of us are familiar with this common fruit. Few, however, are lucky enough to know strawberries the way we were intended to enjoy them. Commercially produced cultivars, which lack the intense flavor of earlier cross breeds, dominate our supermarkets. Strawberries available right now, grown in our special Western North Carolina climate, should have a category all to themselves. All others pale greatly in comparison, and the word is getting out.

Saturday morning, I arrived at farmers market early, thinking this would ensure a leisurely shopping experience. I strolled around, checking out the scene before making my first purchase from Anne at Gaining Ground Farm. A few rows of pint boxes cradled the season’s first cheery strawberries. I set two boxes aside, and chatted with Anne. By the time I had paid for a few other items, and turned around to fetch the berries, a mob surrounded the remaining pints. I even saw a guy reach for a box before a breathless shopper said to him, “Those are mine!” Yikes! What we were nearly squabbling over was something our globe-trotting, tech-savvy, modern food system cannot provide — local, seasonal delicacies, harvested and sold to us by the hands that grew them.

Strawberries shipped from distant lands can’t compete with the flavor of berries ripened by the sun, grown in local soils. I would wear them on a string around my neck for their sheer beauty if I could stand to smell them dangling right below my mouth without nibbling. These are jewels of the season — get them while you can!

Local Strawberry and Goat Cheese Tart:
*1 pint fresh local strawberries, sliced 
*1 cup local plain goat chevre
*1 Tbsp. local honey

Crust: (Adapted from the Silver Palate)
1 2/3 cup organic all purpose flour
1/4 cup fine raw cane sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
10 T unsalted high quality butter, chilled
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. cold water

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut in the butter. Incorporate the butter using your fingertips until the mix resembles a course meal. Whisk the egg yolks, vanilla and water together in a separate bowl. Add to flour mixture using a fork. Form the dough into a ball on a lightly floured surface.
Working in batches, smear a small portion of the dough in a forward motion on work surface using the palm of your hand. Scrape off of work surface and repeat with remaining dough.
Divide dough in half and form into disks. Wrap in wax paper and chill until firm. 
Preheat oven to 425.
On a piece of wax paper or parchment, roll out one of the dough disks to fit a buttered 7 inch tart pan. 
Place the dough in the pan, pressing into all areas of pan. Trim edge. Line the dough with a circle of parchment fit to the bottom of the pan. Place dry beans over the parchment and bake for 8 minutes on the middle rack of oven. Remove the beans and parchment. Pierce bottom of crust with a fork a few times. 
Bake another 7 minutes until crust is golden and cooked through. 
Cool completely on a wire rack.

Throughly blend the goat cheese and honey in a small bowl. Gently rinse strawberries. Cut away tops and slice lengthwise. Spread the honey and goat cheese mixture evenly over the base of the crust.  Arrange the strawberry slices to cover the top. Slice and serve.

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