Berry season is a sweet treat

Strawberries are ready just in time for Canada’s birthday. (Perhaps we should have a strawberry on the flag – they are certainly one of the most popular fruits.) If you are a die-hard picker, one who is out in the field on the first day and several more times during the picking season, you will have an abundance of this luscious, seductive fruit to enjoy, first, picked in the hand, then in pies, tarts, muffins, jam, and plenty left over to freeze for winter enjoyment. With all this sunshine, the berries should be especially sweet. There is no better way to capture the sweetness of the berries than to use them as soon after they are picked as possible, either in a recipe or frozen for future enjoyment.

Easy preserving

If you are lucky enough to have an abundance of strawberries, freeze them for future use. They keep well for up to a year and can be used in pies, crisps, muffins or even in preserving recipes. Consider making strawberry jam in the winter for a renewed taste of summer.

To freeze, simply wash in cool water, remove hulls, pat dry with a towel and arrange berries in a single layer on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Freeze until hard (four hours or overnight) then pack in freezer bags, filling each with 4 to 6 cups (1 to 1-1/2 L) berries. Date and label each bag. Return to freezer ready for a future recipe.

Orange shortbread pastry

This recipe is designed for those intimidated by the very thought of making homemade pastry. It takes virtually minutes with never-fail results and no rolling.

1-1/2 cups (375 mL) all-purpose

2 tbsp (30 mL) granulated sugar

1 tbsp (15 mL) grated orange rind

1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt

1/2 cup (125 mL) cold butter

Pre-heat oven to 400°F (200°C). Spray a 9-inch spring-form pan with baking spray or a 10-inch pie plate with baking spray.

In a mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, rind and salt using a fork. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut butter into pastry mixture until the size of a small crumb. Press crumbs over the bottom and ½ inch (1.5 cm) up the side of pan. Line the pie shell with parchment paper and weight with several cups of rice to bake pastry blind (that is to bake a pastry without a filling, but weighted so that it does not bubble up). Bake until a pale golden colour, about 15 minutes. Using both hands, gently remove parchment paper and empty used rice into jar for future pastries. Discard parchment paper. Cool pastry on rack.

Cheesecake and berry filling

This filling will be sublime with any berry, sliced plums or peaches later in the season. Mascarpone cheese is a high fat cheese with a mild, rich taste ideal for fruit, available in the cheese section of the supermarket.

1 cup (250 mL) 8 oz mascarpone
cheese or cream cheese

1/3 cup (80 mL) sifted icing sugar

1 tbsp (15 mL) grated orange rind

6 cups (1-1/2 L) fresh strawberries
or other seasonal berry or fruit

Sprigs of mint

While pastry is cooling, beat cheese, sugar and rind together until smooth. Spread evenly over bottom of cooled pastry. Cover and refrigerate. For best results, pastry should be made and served the same day. Berries taste best at room temperature. Spoon berries into pie and garnish with mint just before serving. Makes six mouth-watering servings. Happy Canada Day!

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