Conscious Cook: Singing the praises of strawberries

“Strawberries! Fruit from the heart.” — Anthony T. Hinks

I spied a roadside sign today, hand lettered, with two glorious words: Fresh Strawberries! Ahhh, luscious, local strawberries, one of the most fabulous seasonal ingredients ever created, with a spectacular scent and such sublime flavor. A conscious cook’s dream ingredient!

Bursting with brightness, strawberries are a low calorie, fiber rich food that enhance the entire body, inside and out. Eating more strawberries may improve eye health, especially dry eyes, reduce signs of premature aging, strengthen the immune system and possibly provide relief from high blood pressure, arthritis and gout.

Try a strawberry beauty treatment for glowing skin. Crush a big handful of strawberries in a bowl and mix with a tablespoon of local honey. Apply to your face and let dry. Relax for a few minutes, then gently remove with warm water. Or for glossy hair, mix those crushed strawberries with a tablespoon of plain yogurt and massage into damp hair. Let sit for 15 minutes, then shampoo as usual.

So easy to love, heart shaped, ruby red strawberries are incredibly delicious eaten straight from the field. Strawberry picking in June is a time honored tradition that many families treasure, and a classic example of how to prepare a delicious life. Go to pickyourown.org/CT for a list of local pick your own strawberry fields.

Whether you pick your own strawberries, purchase from a farm stand, or buy them in a supermarket, look for berries that are bright in color, with glossy, green tops and no sign of mold. Be sure to smell them. The delectable perfume is the most accurate ripeness indicator. Bring your berries home and store them, unwashed, on a paper towel lined tray in the refrigerator until ready to use. Just before preparing the berries, wash well and remove the stem and top.

Strawberries lend distinctive delight to so many dishes, such as a summer salad prepared with baby lettuces, sliced strawberries, toasted almonds and goat cheese. Add tender, new baby peas for a little pop, and dress with a strawberry champagne vinaigrette.

Strawberries are a most welcome guest for breakfast and brunch. Freshly made strawberry syrup can crown a stack of pancakes or waffles, add a lovely layer to yogurt parfaits, baked oatmeal, tender muffins or tea breads.

Rhubarb and strawberries are a flavor match made in heaven. Chop up some of both, cook down in a saucepan with a bit of lemon juice and just a dash of brown sugar and cayenne pepper, and you will have a marvelous mélange to serve with grilled pork or chicken. Toast baguette slices, spread with whipped ricotta or cream cheese and top with the mixture for an excellent crostini.

Sing the praises of strawberries as you prepare your delicious life.

Straight from the Heart Strawberry Syrup

Makes about two cups

1 pint freshly picked strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced

¼ cup mild, local honey

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

(Add a cup or two of chopped rhubarb if desired.)

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Heat gently over low heat until bubbling and strawberries break down a bit. Remove from heat and let cool.

For more information on Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP, The Conscious Cook, go to theconsciouscook.net