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  • Writer's pictureChef Kelly Unger

Strawberries, glorious strawberries! Pile them high!

To me, strawberries are just pure happiness. It’s spring’s first fruit, one of my favorites and there are so many delicious ways to eat them. Strawberries are high in vitamin C, antioxidants, folate and potassium. Nature knows we need to eat these beauties right now, so let's enjoy them to the max while they are ripe, gorgeous and full of healthy benefits. No grocery store strawberry can compare - in flavor or health - to locally grown, just picked, perfectly ripe berries with no jet lag. I prefer my strawberries raw. I rarely cook them. I have such fond memories from childhood of a raw strawberry pie from Hess’s Patio restaurant in Allentown PA. I’m originally from Bethlehem, and we would make a day of shopping at Hess’s Department Store, which included lunch at Hess’s Patio. The irony was, this restaurant was in the basement of the store. It was tremendous marketing on the part of Hess’s and the restaurant was a loss leader for them. The portions were huge (I never complained) and the prices low. But it was another way to get and keep people in the store. I definitely enjoyed the food there. And they had models walking throughout the restaurant, showing you what was available for purchase on the upper floors. But back to their strawberry pie - it was a mile high pie of raw whole strawberries in pie crust with strawberry glaze poured over top to hold the whole thing together with another mile of whipped cream on top. When the store and restaurant closed, after we finished crying, we decided we needed to start making that pie at home. So we fully baked our crust, washed our strawberries and left them whole (cut off the green leaves of course), then we made strawberry jello. After placing all of the strawberries in the crust, piling them high, we poured the warm jello over top, letting it fill in all of the gaps. We let it cool on the counter for a bit then put it in the refrigerator until it was set. After whipping up some fresh cream, we sliced into that pie and tasted the memories we had from the Patio restaurant. Me and my family still make this pie every season, and it remains a favorite. P.S. the same thing can be done with blueberries and sliced peaches in season. Yeah, we do that too. A quick note on the best way to wash your berries. Fill a large bowl with tepid water and add the tiniest drop of dish soap while filling the bowl. Add your strawberries and swish them around with your hand. They should have enough room to float. Lift the berries out of the bowl with your hands and place in a colander for a final rinse with cool water. Lay them out on a kitchen towel to dry. The dirt will fall to the bottom of that bowl so if you are washing a lot of berries at one time, work in batches and use clean water for each batch. Since the berries grow so close to the ground, they often get very dusty or even muddy if they are harvested after rain. Just rinsing them in a colander won't adequately get the berries clean. Also, I use the cut off tops to flavor my water for the day. They can also be used to make a simple syrup - there's still life in those tops, especially if you're not super diligent with cutting off as little strawberry with the green leaves.

Since I like to eat strawberries raw, here are some of the ways I enjoy them:

Trifle - layers of cake, vanilla custard, strawberries

Strawberry Shortcake - find a great sweet vanilla biscuit or make a lemon pound cake, pile on those raw sliced strawberries and freshly whipped cream!

Salad - with shaved asparagus, radishes and their greens, lettuces, goat cheese, balsamic vinegar and a honey drizzle

This week I’m also sharing this recipe link: 77 Strawberry Recipes for Baking, Cooking and Shaking Up Cocktails by Epicurious magazine. There’s something for everyone here! My favorites in the bunch are probably the Strawberry Mascarpone Tart with Port Glaze and the Strawberry Rum Float.

I’m also sharing a link to the Bucks County Foodshed Alliance’s Local Food Map so you can find places to pick your own strawberries and where to buy them during the week after our market. Wildemore Farm has an annual Pick Your Own Strawberry event and Trauger's Farm and None Such Farm also offer pick your own opportunities.

Eat strawberries three times a day, until you absolutely can't eat another one. And then, move on to the next best thing the season has to offer (that will be blueberries)!

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