Friday, June 21, 2013

DISH | tis the season: strawberry shortcake


As soon as that warm summer sun makes an appearance, we here in Nova Scotia get excited. Sure the arrival of our short beach season is reason enough to be ecstatic but for me and many others it marks a sudden jump in the variety of local produce. First the rhubarb hits and people go mad. I even acquired 12 lbs of the tart stuff from Noggins in Alderney Landing, my local 7-days-a-week market a mere 5 minute walk from the house. We are one lucky community. With a new juicer occupying prime counter real estate, some of that rhubarb got juiced and canned. I see many a rhubarb cocktail in my future.

Lately it's the local strawberries that are all the craze. Last year we went strawberry picking in Truro, scoring well over 20 lbs. In fact, we only just finished the strawberries in the freezer though many a jar of jam remains in the cupboard. Anyone up for some jam? I'd be happy to tradsies.

This season, however, some U-picks may sadly stay closed. The news came out several weeks ago that two strawberry viruses teamed up to deliver a big blow to this year's crop. Devastating I know. I chatted with Chris Webster of Webster Farms in Kings County who, like many others, had no choice but to destroy much of their fields in an effort to stop the spread. Apparently, strawberry mild yellow-edge virus and strawberry mottle virus are relatively common and generally harmless when only one is present. But put the two together and strawberry plants become weakened, producing tiny fruit or none at all. We can thank our lucky stars the viruses don't affect humans. What's most interesting though is an outbreak like this hasn't been seen in Nova Scotia for years, well at least the 60 years Webster Farms has been operating. Most research to date has attributed the spread to the strawberry aphid though nothing has yet to be confirmed. What is certain is that we will see less strawberries this season and our strawberry farmers will be stuck with the financial burden. Damn aphids.

Despite the loss of more than 40% of our harvest, the berries are now gracing market shelves across the province including my very own Noggins. As the official dessert of summer, I'm pretty sure everyone immediately starts making strawberry shortcake the minute a pint is acquired. It's even the token dessert at many a lobster supper. So obviously what was I to do with my first pint but make some. But you know me, no plain ol' shortcake was going to suffice. Not that I don't like kicking it traditional with biscuits, berries and whip but my moms had recently-ok not so recently-given me some cool mini cake pans and I finally knew exactly what to do with them. And so I give you the eathalifax strawberry shortcake: mint & honey macerated strawberries + lemon olive oil cake + clotted cream.

Yes I did.

Strawberry Shortcake





mint + honey macerated strawberries

1 pint strawberries, sliced (Noggins)
2 tbsp fresh mint, chiffonade (Riverview herbs)
drizzle local honey (Ash Hill Farm)

First things first, combine the mint, honey and berries. The longer you leave them the more the juices will be drawn out of the berries. We left ours overnight thus the dark green strands of mint and soft, crimson berries. I wish I had taken the photo the same day. Live and learn.

lemon olive oil cake

1/3 cup milk + squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 + 3 tbsp sugar
rind of 1 lemon
1 egg
2 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil (Liquid Gold)

lemon syrup

1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar

English clotted cream or whip cream

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour six mini cake pans of your choice. Combine the milk with the  lemon juice and let sit. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, being sure to mix well. No one likes the taste of baking powder ok. Whisk together the sugar, zest, and olive oil. Add in the egg and milk. Combine the wet with the dry, making sure not to over mix. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake 15-18 min or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Let cool several minutes before inverting on a wire rack.

Combine the syrup ingredients in a pot and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. When the cakes are cool, brush with the syrup.

Totally going against tradition, we ate ours with some clotted cream that the lovely Aimee left at our place after the first HFXFB meet up. If you haven't tried this stuff, head on down to Pete's or your local specialty grocery store and grab a jar. It's pretty much butter that tastes like cream. How can that be wrong?

Not too sweet with the added awesomeness of mint and lemon, this shortcake was everything I had hoped it would be. So this strawberry season, whatever way you shortcake, head to your nearest farmers market and send some love our farmers' way.