Fresh strawberries herald summer

I believe that the Canadian flag should be changed for July 1. Instead of the bright red maple leaf, a large succulent strawberry should be placed smack dab in the middle of the flag. Why? Because on Canada Day, without fail, there are the most divine juicy, red, sweet Ontario strawberries ready aplenty in the fields for picking and eating in abundance. There is no better way to celebrate Canada’s birthday than with a great big, delicious feed of these luscious berries. In fact, there is nothing that equals the fragrant taste of a sun-ripened berry popped straight into your mouth fresh from the field with the juice dribbling down your throat to remind you that you have an entire summer’s worth of divine Ontario produce to enjoy. Strawberry season marks the true beginning of summer. Happy Canada Day!

Strawberry and Grilled Chicken Salad
Begin summer with this lean but satisfying salad from Foodland Ontario using local ingredients and topped with a yogurt and strawberry dressing. To showcase the salad, serve in a large platter generously sprinkled with the fresh sliced berries.
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 6 oz/175 g) each
8 cups (2 L) mixed salad greens, washed and dried
2 cups (500 mL) sliced Ontario strawberries
1 cup (250 mL)    shelled peas
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped green onions or chives
3/4 cup (175 ml) sliced strawberries
1/2 cup (125 mL) plain yogurt
2 tbsp (25 mL)    liquid honey
5 tsp (25 mL) white or red balsamic vinegar
Place chicken on greased grill over medium-high heat,  close lid and grill, turning once, until no longer pink inside, 12 to 15 minutes. Let rest for five minutes. You may serve the entire salad on one large platter or divide among four large salad plates. For individual serving: place 2 cups (500 mL) salad greens, 1/2 cup 125 mL) strawberries, 1/4 cup (50 mL) peas and 2 tbsp (25 mL) green onions. Slice chicken diagonally and place over salad. Drizzle with dressing. (Tip: To get 1 cup of shelled peas, you will need 1 lb (500 g) of pea pods. Dressing: In food processor, combine strawberries, yogurt, honey and vinegar; process until smooth, scraping down the sides. Cover and refrigerate until using.

Small batch Strawberry and English Lavender Jam
English lavender usually blooms at the same time that strawberries are available and adds a lovely floral taste to the jam. This mini recipe from Foodland Ontario makes it easy to make for people who don’t have canning equipment.
2 tbsp (25 mL) fresh lavender flowers or 5 tsp (25 mL) dried
1/4 cup (50 mL) boiling water
2 cups (500 mL) crushed fresh strawberries
2 tbsp (25 mL) powdered pectin
3 cups (750 mL) granulated sugar
In small bowl, place lavender flowers; pour boiling water over top. Stir to crush slightly. Let stand for about 20 minutes. Strain through fine-mesh sieve into bowl, pressing out water from lavender; discard lavender. (May be covered and set aside for up to one day). In large saucepan or Dutch oven, combine crushed strawberries, lavender water and powered pectin. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Add sugar in steady stream, stirring constantly. Boil hard for one minute. Remove from heat. Skim off foam. Stir slowly for five to eight minutes (to prevent fruit from floating.) Ladle into clean jars; add lids. Let stand at room temperature until set. Refrigerate for up to three weeks. Tip: Do not interchange type of pectin used. Powdered pectin must be added before the sugar for jam to set.

Strawberry Custard Pie
The English enjoy their strawberries with Devon cream. In this recipe similar to a cheesecake pie, Devon cream gives additional richness to the tart filling.
Graham Cracker Crust:
1 1/3 cups (325 ml) graham wafer crumbs
3 tbsp (45 mL)    granulated sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) melted butter
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cinnamon
2 cups (500 mL) sliced strawberries
2 tbsp (25 mL) granulated sugar
1 pkg (7 g) gelatin
1 pkg (250 g) cream cheese softened
1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
1 cup (250 mL) canned Devon custard
1/2 cup (125 mL) whipping cream
1 tbsp (15 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp (2 mL) vanilla
6 medium whole berries
Crust: In bowl, combine wafer crumbs and sugar. Stir in butter until evenly moistened. Press firmly into lightly greased 9 inch (23 cm) pie plate. Bake in 350˚F (180˚C) for eight to 10 minutes or until golden brown around edge. Let cool completely.
Strawberries: In medium bowl, stir together strawberries and sugar. Cover and let stand to release juice for about 45 minutes. Reserving strawberries; pour off juices and measure at least 1/4 cup (50 mL) juice; stir in gelatin. Microwave on High for about 30 seconds or until gelatin dissolves, stirring once or twice. (Or set dish in shallow pan of boiling water until gelatin dissolves.) Let cool slightly; stir into strawberries.
Filling: In food processor, combine cream cheese and sugar; process until smooth, scraping down sides. Add strawberry mixture; process to puree berries. Add custard; process until well combined. Pour into prepared crust. Refrigerate until set; about four hours.
Topping: In small deep bowl, with electric mixer, whip cream to soft peaks with sugar and vanilla. Serve pie with dollops of whipped cream and whole strawberries.

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