June 27, 2012

Soup to Nuts: Maine strawberry season
ripens early

If you want to lay in a quantity of sweet Maine strawberries, you’d better move fast. It’s peak season as we speak.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Chef Carmen Gonzales is celebrating the season with a dessert of strawberry and banana fritters, above, served with vanilla bean ice cream and a red wine sauce. Local farmers say the crop is peaking early.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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Press Herald File Photo

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WE BE JAMMIN'

THE UNIVERSITY OF MAINE Cooperative Extension offers hands-on food preservation workshops that teach all the basics. There's still one class left dedicated to making strawberry jam, taught by master food preserver Kate McCarty.

WHAT: Hot Water Bath Canning and Freezing: Low-Sugar Strawberry Jam

WHEN: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 10, 2012

WHERE: University of Maine Cooperative Extension, 75 Clearwater Dr., Suite 104, Falmouth

HOW MUCH: $10 (scholarships are available)

TO REGISTER: Call 781-6099 or email lois.elwell@maine.edu

PICK YOUR OWN

HERE'S A SAMPLING of farms in southern Maine where you can pick your own strawberries. It's a good idea to call ahead, because farms occasionally close for a day to let berries ripen. This year, however, berries are ripening so fast that farms may be closed to pickers altogether by the time you're ready to head into the fields. Bottom line? Always call first.

IF YOU'RE LOOKING for certified organic strawberries this year, check your local farmers markets. Organic pick-your-own strawberry operations are rare in southern Maine. Most people in this part of the state go to Nancy Stedman's Little Flower Farm in Buxton, but Stedman said she had an issue with her supplier this year and won't be offering u-pick strawberries. Stedman said she's had more than 100 phone calls from berry pickers in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts searching for certified organic u-pick fields, and she pledges that she'll plant even more organic strawberries than usual next year to satisfy the demand. To check on her farm's berries next year, call 929-3967 or go to littleriverflowerfarm.com The next closest organic u-pick strawberries appear to be in Dresden. You'll find that farm's information below.

CAPE ELIZABETH

Maxwell's Farm

Strawberry fields are off Two Lights Road

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. Always closed Sundays. Cash or checks only.

Strawberry hotline: 799-3383

William. H. Jordan Farm

21 Wells Road

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Call first.

Strawberry hotline: 767-2740

Alewives Brook Farm

83 Old Ocean House Road, Route 77

Hours: 9 a.m. until sunset, usually around 7 or 7:30 p.m.

Business Number: 799-7743

DRESDEN

Goranson Farm

250 River Road

Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Organic berries.

Strawberry hotline: 737-8834

GORHAM

Ahlquist Farm Stand

20 Small Pond Road

Hours: 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday to Friday

Strawberry hotline: 839-4080; few berries left, so call first.

LIMINGTON

Doles Orchard

187 Doles Ridge Road

Hours: 6 a.m. to noon and 5 to 8 p.m. daily, except when closed to ripen

Strawberry hotline: 793-4409

NEW GLOUCESTER

Pineland Farms/Gillespie Farms Division

752 Mayall Road

Hours: 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily. Ten percent senior discount on Wednesdays for pickers ages 62 and older. No dogs.

Strawberry hotline: 657-2877

NORTH BERWICK

Riverside Farm Stand and Greenhouse

Five miles north of South Berwick on Route 4

Hours: 8 a.m. to noon and 3 to 6 p.m. daily

Strawberry hotline: 676-2648

SANFORD

Lavigne Strawberry Farm

158 Whichers Mill Road

Hours: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. No credit cards.

Strawberry hotline: 324-5497

WELLS

Spiller Farm

85 Spiller Farm Lane

Hours: 8 a.m. to noon Monday to Thursday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday

Strawberry hotline: 985-2575

NOW WHAT

What to do with all those sweet berries coming our way?

We asked three chefs to share their ideas for creative strawberry recipes that go beyond the usual strawberry shortcake. (Recipes at right.) If you're looking for a dessert that's not too sweet but still showcases the natural sweetness of strawberries, try the strawberry and finger banana fritters, served with vanilla bean ice cream and mosto sauce, created by chef Carmen Gonzalez of Carmen at the Danforth Inn in Portland.

In true Top Chef Masters style (she was a contestant on Season 2), the chef created this dessert especially for the Portland Press Herald in just two hours' time. It turned out so well she is considering adding it to the menu at her new restaurant in the inn.

"Each fritter has a whole strawberry in it," Gonzalez said.

The hot fritters retain a hint of the Jamaican beer Gonzalez puts in the batter. The mosto sauce drizzled over them is a Spanish sauce made with dry red wine, a splash of apple cider, sugar and a cinnamon stick. The flavorful sauce has the consistency of maple syrup.

Erin Lynch, the baker at Rosemont Market and Bakery in Portland, contributed a strawberry crepe cake inspired by gateau de crepes. It's a lighter version that Lynch promises isn't a multi-day project and doesn't even require turning on the oven. The crepe cake she made for us was constructed with about 25 crepes and tasted like summer.

Our third recipe comes from Tim Labonte, the new executive chef at the Portland Harbor Hotel. It's a maple panna cotta with balsamic grilled Maine strawberries and crisp rosemary oats. Labonte serves the panna cotta in a Mason jar, a nice little nod to the season.

"Maple syrup and strawberries go great together," Labonte said. "What I've done with these strawberries, though, is I added a twist by cutting them and tossing them with a little oil, and then I put them on the grill real quick. I put a perforated pan on the grill, so the pan was hot, because Maine strawberries are just so fragile. They're so juicy and plump. If you cook them for any length of time, they kind of disintegrate. So I wanted it to be quick. I had my pan hot, and I just threw the seasoned strawberries on the grill so the smoke would come up on the strawberries and add that smoky flavor, that outdoorsy flavor of the summer."

The panna cotta is creamy and sweet, and the strawberries do indeed have a hint of smoke flavor. The rosemary-dusted oat clusters add a little crunch. The oat clusters and the panna cotta can be made a day ahead, Labonte said.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: mgoad@pressherald.com

Twitter: MeredithGoad

 

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