Thursday, September 11, 2008

Strawberry Fields (forever)

berryI go home for a few weeks every summer. This year I broke it up into two smaller visits, which meant I’d be there first for my family reunion and later for my next-door neighbor’s wedding, a.k.a. first for strawberry season and later for tomato season! Both family events were drama-filled excuses to dress up and drink too much; both visits to the picking farm I’ve frequented since I was a child were excuses to drag my teenage cousins out of bed, load up our Jeep, and get the fuck out of Dodge, I mean—er, Buffalo.

Becker Farms is a little slice of heaven on Earth in Gasport, New York, and that’s not just because their blueberry pie was the first I ever tasted not made with canned fruit or frozen dough. Nor is it because their raspberry pillows—precious puffs of sugar cookie stuffed with ruby red, raspberry jam—were my favorite care package throughout my college days. No, Becker Farms is magical because it always makes me feel young.

farmI first learned to ride horses there, in the fifth grade. My dad took us to pick pumpkins and line up for the haunted hayride every Halloween. When other girls were trading in Lip Smackers for Wet ‘n Wild shiny gloss in the shade called “Lady Danger,” I was taking classes in a barn with middle aged housewives learning to arrange dried wildflowers (p.s. I loved it!). My aunt taught me to can fruits and vegetables and every season (minus Buffalo’s frozen winter months where farmlands bear little more than Christmas trees and the stuff for Maple Manhattans) we’d venture the hour-long ride to the rural countryside to pick the best that harvest had to offer.

This summer was no exception. Except these days it’s me who’s picking up my aunt’s kids (ages 10, 13, and 16) and teaching them to select ripe strawberries and make sauce for sundaes. This past June, we spent a blissful afternoon romping through strawberry fields and making a game out of the search for funny-shaped berries. I found a heart! On the way home, our calm was spoiled when we got lost in Lockport and had to figure out how to use the GPS on cousin Frankie’s iPhone, in order to get home. (That’s right, the sixteen-year-old has an iPhone. No license, but a GPS. I’m so jealous.). It worked, and back on the highway, en route to sundaes, we blasted the radio and shouted Top 40 songs at the tops of our lungs.

heart“that girl is so DANGEROUS,
that girl is so Dangerous,
that girl is a baaad girl…”

Especially fun when sung in the company of tweens!

As I packed to leave Buff the first time, knowing I’d return only a few weeks later for wedding and tomato season, I stuffed securely-closed jars of strawberry sauce in my luggage and prayed I wouldn’t end up with overweight fees at the airport or a sticky, red wardrobe back home in New York. Luckily, I was spared both and have been rewarded for my luggage gamble several times over with sweets beyond sundaes, like strawberry sauce and whipped cream on hot buttermilk biscuits and strawberry-stuffed French toast. I’ve even taken to sweetening my own strawberry yogurt and layering it between sherry infused sponge cake, for an unbeatable summer berry trifle.

It’s time I face facts. Becker Farms is magic because I get to play with food in a way urban New York just doesn’t allow. I’m a city girl (for now). But deep down there’s a farmer in me (forever).

img_4903Strawberry Sauce
(serves a family reunion with plenty of leftovers to jar as parting gifts)

  • 2 LB Strawberries (hulled)
  • ½ cup Sugar (depending on sweetness of berries)
  • ½ Lemon (juiced)
  • 1 pinch Salt

This is strawberry sauce, naked. You can add any combination of berries, citrus and spice to make the sauce your own. I’m partial to cinnamon and anise flavored sauces that pair perfectly with holiday feasts, and I sometimes add a little orange rind and Campari into the mix to make a negroni sauce for those who like their sweet with a side of bitter.

Smash half the berries (use your hands, it’s more fun and more practical) and keep the remaining half, whole. Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil while stirring gently until sugar dissolves and berries are soft, about 10 minutes. Turn heat to low and simmer until sauce thickens. Remove from heat and cool to allow the sauce to set.

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