by Cathy Erway
More color has come to the Greenmarket recently. The cherry blossoms may have burst and faded, but a deeper hue of crimson paints Grand Army Plaza these Saturdays — strawberries.
More so than hardier seasonal vegetables and fruits, like apples, strawberries are one fine reason why it pays to eat fresh and local. We’re saturated with strawberries year-round, from waffles and pancakes in the morning to chocolate or ice cream desserts. But rarely do these year-round versions make one look up from their fruit salad and say “wow.” True enough, the berries most commonly found are overgrown balloons of water and pulp. Fresh seasonal strawberries, ripened on the vine and picked and sold within a matter of days, like those you’ll find at Greenmarkets now, are infinitely more flavorful and redder throughout, to boot.
Once picked, these berries just don’t stay that way for long. Strawberries demand extra TLC from the farmers who grow and handle them, and of course, cooperation from the weather. Past years have seen strawberries command high prices due to frost and shortages, but this spring, rejoice! The beloved spring treat is having a banner season, and New Jersey’s Kernan Farms had some fetching ones on display.
What a lot of people don’t remember, Kernie Kernan, the fifth-generation farmer of Kernan Farms, told me, is that the strawberry crops are laid with straw in the fall, hence the name. This helps provide a buffer between the fruit and the dirt once they begin to grow in spring. Strawberries are quite heavy on their vines, he explained, and have a tendency to take a nose dive if you don’t pad them well.
The Bridgeton, New Jersey-based farm eschews the use of pesticides as much as possible, preferring more time-tested solutions such as this. However, the farm is not certified organic. Kernie assured that when his farm does apply chemical sprays, it’s done responsibly. That’s the difference between the food here and that mysterious pack of strawberries in the grocery store. “If it comes from all over the world, who knows what kind of spray they use, because they’re not regulated in many countries,” he warned.
I should note that the strawberries from Kernan Farms were the best I’ve tasted in a long time — sweet and satisfyingly plump, with a deep red and juicy flesh throughout. They’re clearly doing things right.
As much as I wanted to tear through the strawberries straight from their stems, I asked Kernie for a cooking suggestion: “With whipped cream, and maybe some champagne, like a float.” It reminded me of a strawberry sundae concoction made at the Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Shoppe in Carroll Gardens about this time last year, when strawberries were also just in season. Farmacy owner, Petey Freeman, a zealous home cook, layered fresh strawberries with a homemade strawberry syrup between scoops of Adirondack vanilla ice cream. Simple, but so good. Strawberries like this need little help.
For those looking for more strawberry inspiration, here are a couple of recipes:
Columnist Cathy Erway hits the Brooklyn Greenmarkets for us every other week, picking out a particularly ravishing-looking seasonal ingredient, talking to the farmer who grew it, and speaking with a local chef about their favorite simple ways to prepare it.
Cathy is the author of The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove, based on her two-year mission to forego restaurant food in the city and her blog, Not Eating Out in New York. Last spring, she launched a rooftop garden at Red Hook’s Sixpoint Brewery complete with chickens and repurposed keg planters, which is the basis of her second blog, Lunch at Sixpoint. She hosts a weekly podcast on Heritage Radio Network, Let’s Eat In, which has featured guests ranging from Reverend Billy to Mark Bittman. She has written for Saveur, The Huffington Post, Edible Brooklyn and Brooklyn Based, and has taught cooking classes at the Greenmarkets, the Brooklyn Kitchen and WholeFoods.