Berry best picks for farm fresh­est

Amy Drew: Some lo­cals wait for straw­berry sea­son all year long.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - Amy Drew Thomp­son OS Foodie

Last year, my pre­de­ces­sor, Lau­ren Del­gado, wrote a sea­sonal piece to help read­ers solve their straw­berry sur­plus prob­lem.

It was a fun dis­cov­ery for the staff noob look­ing for a fresh take, as this is an is­sue I have never, ever, ever had. In fact, it’s been quite the op­po­site. Each year, straw­berry sea­son rolls around and I make grand plans: pies, cakes, tarts, jam.

To date, I’ve never made a thing.

We eat them, sandy soil and all, in the car on the way home, toss­ing tops out the win­dow as we go. We eat them in great, post-rinse batches right out of the colan­der in the kitchen sink. They all go, ev­ery last berry. And if one or two wind up drunk at the bot­tom of a cham­pagne flute, that’s about the best post­pick destiny a scant handful from tens of pounds a sea­son could hope for at my place.

My fam­ily has been pick­ing at Pappy’s Patch in Oviedo for 15 con­sec­u­tive sea­sons. Al­most as long as Lindy Short’s fam­ily has been work­ing it.

Her fa­ther, Tom Min­ter, took over when its owner — the orig­i­nal “Pappy” — de­cided he no longer wanted to farm. Oviedo na­tives all, Short has been the field man­ager here for seven sea­sons, watch­ing ded­i­cated lo­cals re­turn year af­ter year.

Her dad of­ten hands me my bas­kets when I ar­rive, telling me which va­ri­eties are grow­ing where and steer­ing me to­ward rows he be­lieves may con­tain bet­ter spoils.

I used to think Long Is­land’s sum­mer ber­ries were some­thing spe­cial. That was be­fore I’d seen what Florida winters can do. The blaz­ing sun and mild temps can grow straw­ber­ries the size of small plums in shades re­served for ar­ti­san candy ap­ples.

On sunny days, they glow, bea­cons of sweetness amid the lush rows, but on my re­cent ad­ven­ture, skies were gray. Fruit was harder to spot, but pick­ers were few. I ar­rived early to get the best of the day.

There’s no heart­break quite like that of a prime berry that proves a tease. It doesn’t hap­pen too of­ten, but some­times that hefty, flaw­less beaut con­ceals a soft spot or hole be­neath. I heard one woman lament­ing cater­pil­lar dam­age, but I don’t mind shar­ing.

That I see so many crit­ters amid the jagged leaves makes me happy. Pappy’s uses no pes­ti­cide and so the bees — hives are parked in the ad­ja­cent cow pas­ture for the pur­pose of pol­li­na­tion — buzz hap­pily amid blos­soms with noth­ing to fear.

Fungi­cides are em­ployed to pre­vent mold — this is rainy Florida, af­ter all — but it still hap­pens. Cir­cle of life and all that. To me, it’s a sign that na­ture has a place in the patch, even if Short and her fam­ily rue the rain.

“It’s ter­ri­ble for them,” she says, not­ing that the patch does best when it’s sunny and 75. “There’s drip ir­ri­ga­tion, so the straw­ber­ries get water with­out the rain. The fun­gus hap­pens when they sit in the water.”

The straw­ber­ries are freez­able, Short notes, if you can’t use them in time. She has many cus­tomers who turn them to pre­serves, as well.

“There’s one cou­ple, they puree the straw­ber­ries and put it right in the bat­ter for pink straw­berry waf­fles. They make them ev­ery Sun­day.”

Michelle Hul­bert, owner of Michelle, Maker of Sweet Things and pas­try chef for Cuisin­ers Cater­ing, has a For­rest Gumpian list of uses for straw­ber­ries when the sea­son rolls around: tarts, pies, cakes, jam,

you name it. But we spoke amid the hol­i­days, and New Year’s Eve was loom­ing large. “I love to add cham­pagne,” she says, not­ing that of­ten­times peo­ple stress about hol­i­day desserts. “I al­ways tell them if they’re do­ing it at home and they don’t have time to think about it, us­ing fresh straw­ber­ries to make a trifle is so easy.

“Mac­er­ate the straw­ber­ries,” says Hul­bert, “adding a lit­tle sugar to draw out the mois­ture and add the al­co­hol of your choice. I am all about the sparkling rosé. The fla­vor is so good when it comes out!”

You can bake your own pound cake, make pud­ding (Hul­bert likes vanil­l­abean, for sim­plic­ity, which al­lows the cham­pagne and straw­ber­ries to shine) and even make your own whipped cream for this dessert, “the whipped cream isn’t hard at all, but with those fresh, boozy straw­ber­ries you can just as eas­ily buy both and make it easy on your­self. Chop the cake into cubes and just layer all the fla­vors and it looks so beau­ti­ful.”

Hul­bert says two pounds of ber­ries would take half a cup of sugar.

“It re­leases all the juices and adds sweetness. The rosé adds a beau­ti­ful flo­ral taste to the mix. You can al­ways strain them and just add the straw­ber­ries, then take that liq­uid and re­duce it — and then you have a sauce.”

What to pair with such a treat?

“A glass of the same rosé, of course!” she says. Save a few small straw­ber­ries, too, for the bot­tom of the glass or a rim gar­nish.

Want to reach out? Find me on Face­book, Twit­ter or In­sta­gram @amy­droo or on the OSFoodie In­sta­gram ac­count @orlando.foodie. Email: amthomp­[email protected]­lan­dosen­tinel.com. Want more foodie news? Sign up for the Food & Drink news­let­ter at or­lan­dosen­tinel.com/news­let­ters.

AMY DREW THOMP­SON/ORLANDO SENTINEL PHO­TOS

Lindy Short’s fam­ily has been work­ing Pappy’s Patch in Oviedo since it’s owner (the orig­i­nal Pappy) re­tired from farm­ing. The prop­erty is cur­rently for sale.

The road to the edge of Oviedo’s Black Ham­mock is lit­tered with straw­berry tops this time of year. No one can re­sist car snack­ing on the way back home.

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