Strawberries Have Been Consumed Since The Stone Age

Did you ever wonder where the strawberry originated? The Woodland Strawberry, (Fragaria vesca) it is said has been consumed by humans since the Stone Age. I really don’t want to think about how archaeologists figured that out but it is written that they did, so we’ll leave it at that. Evidently strawberries were first cultivated in ancient Persia. Seeds were traded along the Silk Road towards the Far East and into Europe where they were cultivated until the 18th century. These species were largely supplanted by cultivation of F. X ananassa over the last 250 years. Native American strawberries were enjoyed by early settlers in the eastern USA, and in the early 1800s, F. X ananassa cultivars were brought to America from Europe. Plants selected in Pajaro, California became the basis of the California industry sited near Watsonville, the main strawberry region in California. Today, strawberries are cultivated in 73 countries worldwide with the USA producing about 27%. California alone outproduces most other countries.

Even though Strawberries have been a favorite food of man for it looks like forever, strawberries are not one of my favorite fruits. But, sometimes they smell so good it’s hard to pass them up.  Such was the case Sunday when I purchased a beautiful basket of plump brightly colored, fragrant, organic strawberries at the Farmers’ Market. I also picked up a couple of lemons, some beautiful snap peas, a couple Fuji apples and some more Japanese sweet potatoes.

After lunch I spent some time browsing through recipes and found a clipping for Cornmeal Cake with Strawberries. The clipping touted the cake as the perfect foundation for unstructured strawberry shortcake so I decided to give it a try thinking it might be the perfect dessert for Mother’s Day.

Cornmeal Cake with Strawberries

Unsalted butter and cornmeal for preparing the pan

1 ¼ cups sifted whole wheat pastry flour

6 Tablespoons yellow cornmeal

2 Teaspoons baking powder

¼ Teaspoon salt

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 Teaspoon grated lemon zest

½ cup milk (I used soy as that’s what I had on hand)

1 Teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9” round or square pan with 2-inch sides, then dust with cornmeal, shaking out excess.

In a bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.

Using an electric mixer beat the butter until creamy. Add sugar gradually and beat, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice, until creamy and light. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add lemon zest.

Combine milk and vanilla. With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with milk. Beat just until blended, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.

Bake until top is golden brown and firm to the touch, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool in pan 20 minutes. Invert the cake onto a rack, then reinvert onto another rack. Cool to room temperature, then transfer to a serving dish.

Hull two baskets strawberries. Put half of them in a large bowl and crush with a potato masher. Slice the remaining strawberries and add to the bowl. Sweeten to taste with sugar. Add enough lemon juice to give the mixture a refreshing tart edge. Cover and Chill.

Just before serving, whip 1 cup heavy cream to soft peaks with 2 Teaspoons sugar. I flavored this with a touch of brandy.

To serve spoon berry mixture into shallow bowls, top with cake, whipped cream and a little more of the berry mixture. Serve immediately. Serves up to 8.

I really liked this cake. It’s not too sweet and has a really nice texture. I also think replacing the lemon with orange with work well. This would be a nice cake to eat along with any berry mixture.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

Shopping Placerville Farmers’ Market, Backroad Exploring and Baking Pudding Cake

After some late in the week conversations I decided to spend the weekend with my sister in Nevada. I left for her place early Saturday morning, stopping in Placerville to shop the Farmers\’ Market. I love this little market and often stop when I’m headed up Highway 50 on a Saturday morning. It has a delightful assortment of offerings; of course there’s a good selection of fruit and vegetables, this weekend there was also a nice selection of vegetable plants in various stages of development, several craft, jewelery and import vendors and some producers of very yummy foods. One of my favorites is Spicegrills, specializing in East Indian foods. They have great salesman and he’s very generous with his tasty samples. He’s very patient and explains everything with such beautiful adjectives it’s hard to resist trying everything, of course I never do. After a generous variety of tastings I promised I’d be back to buy a couple of items. A meander through the rest of the market filled my basket with one-half dozen duck eggs (which I haven’t had since I was a kid), 1 dozen free range chicken eggs, ½ lb sugar snap peas (which were oh, so sweet), 1 basket small, very fragrant strawberries and 1 lb rhubarb (which I needed for the recipe that is ultimately the subject of this post), then back to Spicegrills for a couple of samosas for my eat-and-go breakfast, a jar of Mango Ginger Chutney, Garlic Naan and 8 ozs of Pickle Chilli Chicken, which later became lunch.

After lunch we loaded up Miss El (Judy’s black lab) and took off for a backroads drive in an area around Monitor Pass. The views of the snow-capped peaks were spectacular and the high desert wildflowers added a rainbow of colors to the grey-green palette of the chaparral-studded hills. We stopped often to wander and photograph the wildflowers. Some were large and showy and others were very small and discrete, trying their best to hide from discovery. As we wandered  we came across a large patch of very fragrant wild onion in full bloom and after much concentrated effort, without the aid of a shovel or proper digging tool, we extracted a handful of the little beauties. Little they are, with the whole plant only standing about six inches or so, with a bulb the size of a walnut. I brought them home and will give them a try this week.

When we got back to the house we decided to make the Strawberry Rhubarb Buttermilk Pudding cake that I had recently seen on a post by Sassy Radish. Working as a team we chopped, measured and mixed and in no time the cake was ready for the oven. There was some discussion about the temperature, 400° F seemed pretty hot for baking with a glass pan, but we decided to give it a try and just keep a close watch while it was in the oven. The other thing that didn’t seem quite right was that the strawberry-rhubarb mixture contained, what seemed to us was, too much liquid. I always give a recipe the benefit of the doubt the first time, so into the oven it went, concerns and all. The results were spot on. It was beautiful and tasted wonderful. That night we had our pudding cake warm topped with vanilla bean ice cream (definitely good). The second night we had it warm again but this time with whipped cream topped with lemon zest. I really liked the last version and next time I think I’ll add lemon zest to the cake batter. I’d also like to try a blueberry-peach version when peaches come into season.

Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake

Adapted from Gourmet Today by Sassy Radish
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
2 cups chopped rhubarb stalks (about 3-4 stalks)
1 cup chopped strawberries
1 cup AP flour
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (don’t discard the butter wrapper, use it to butter the baking dish!)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400F. Butter an 8 inch square glass or ceramic baking dish, using the butter wrapper from your stick of butter – it’ll have enough butter for adequately buttering the dish.

In a small saucepan, stir together water, cornstarch and 1/2 cup sugar, then stir in rhubarb to coat evenly. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Once simmering, stir occasionally and let cook for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in strawberries. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and remaining sugar.

In a large bowl, whisk together egg, buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla. Whisk in the flour mixture until just combined – careful do not over mix.

Add 1/2 cup of the fruit mixture to the baking dish, spreading it evenly over the bottom of the dish. Pour batter over fruit, spreading it evenly. Don’t just pour the batter in one spot, pour it over fruit throughout the dish and then use a spatula to make sure it’s spread out evenly. If you just dump the batter into one spot and then try to distribute the batter throughout, you’ll run into mixing the fruit with the batter. Spoon the rest of the fruit mixture over the batter, making sure to distribute that evenly as well.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until a wooden toothpick or a cake tester inserted into center of cake (not fruit!) comes out clean.

Cool in pan on a rack for 5 minutes before serving.

Here’s the info on the Placerville Farmers’ Market: Since they’re a seasonal market they opened May 8 and will close October 30. They are located at the Corner of Cedar Ravine and Main Street (Google map) every Saturday from 8 AM – Noon.

Landon’s Pick at the Farmers’ Market – Juicy Strawberries!

Landon, my six-year old grandson, accompanied me this morning on my weekly trip to the Farmers’ Market. While he isn’t as excited about the vegetables as I am, he was absolutely thrilled with all the fragrant strawberries that were being displayed. That’s what he thought we should definitely buy. Since he had also been eying a certain giant sized cinnamon roll I thought the strawberries would be a much better choice.  We bought a basket of beautiful red strawberries which Landon carried  proudly throughout the market, as I finished up my shopping.

Once home, I carefully washed and drained them, then put them in a little bowl with a side bowl of powdered sugar that he could dip them into. He ate them, out on the swing, on the front porch where we have practically have lived this weekend due to the incredible spring weather.

As you can see they were good to the very last bite.

There were three strawberries left. I was amazed that there were any. But, three was just enough for me. So, I put them away to have this evening with a certain little serving of Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta that I had in the refrigerator. I have been thinking of this combination ever since the first time I tasted the Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta. Now, my fantasy was about to come true.

The combination was everything I had hoped for. It was the perfect combination of flavors. Simply scrumptious!