Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Remember 2008? The strawberry fields suffered from winter kill, and so did our strawberry shortcakes.
Red, ripe and just about ready for picking, Maine berries bring their sweet something to food and drink. Above, a bountiful collection of strawberries from Lavigne's Strawberry Farm in Sanford.
Jill Brady / Staff Photographer
Zapoteca in Portland has adapted the strawberry margarita with its own twist in its Ramorita.
Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer
The next year was the year of relentless rains that decimated the strawberry crop and made Mainers start gathering materials for building an ark. They drowned their sorrows in blue margaritas since there was no fruit for strawberry ones.
As for 2010, the combination of a warm, early spring combined with a late frost got the strawberry plants as confused as a vegan in a steak house.
Sure, 2011 was kind of normal, but then last year the unusual weather made everything happen way too early, and by Independence Day -- usually the grand finale of strawberry season -- the whole crop was kaput. That meant no strawberry pie for Fourth of July picnics.
This year, says David Handley, a small-fruit specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Monmouth, Maine is "actually having the closest thing to a normal year we've had in a while as far as plant development is concerned."
"The size looks good, the quantity looks very good, and the pest problems were very few this year," he said. "So I'm thinking we're looking at a very good crop year."
Handley said Maine is better off than other northeastern states this year, which have had twice as much rain and are trying to keep their fruit from rotting before it can be harvested.
Strawberry growers in southern Maine agree with Handley that, so far, this is looking to be a banner year.
"It's looking really good at this point," said Bill Bamford of Maxwell's Strawberry Farm in Cape Elizabeth. "That's all subject to change because we don't know what the weather is going to do."
Handley said growers in the Augusta area were talking about opening their pick-your-own fields by this weekend, which is a normal start for central Maine.
Earl Bunting of Doles Orchard in Limington, which has 3 1/2 acres of strawberries, said last week he was hoping to open for picking sometime between June 15 and 20, which is normal for the business. He said he'd like to have more sun for ripening, but "you take what you can get."
Bill Spiller of Spiller Farm in Wells had already opened his pick-your-own operation last week, saying that it's "been a good year. The berries are looking excellent."
At Maxwell's they won't start picking until near the end of the month, which is normal for being right on the coast.
"The people inland that don't get the afternoon sea breezes, they'll start before we do," Bamford noted, "but they don't have the ocean to look at while they're picking, either."
WHEN YOU BRING your strawberries home, after you've had your fill of strawberry pie, and strawberries on your morning cereal and in your afternoon smoothies, try making these strawberry classics from local restaurants. Some of them come with a twist.
The Ramorita from Zapoteca may not look like the typical bright red, syrupy-sweet strawberry margarita you'd have on spring break, but it is in fact a traditional, classic margarita:
3 to 4 strawberry slices (muddled)
11/2 ounces silver tequila
3/4 ounce Patron Citronge
1/2 ounce agave nectar
11/2 ounces fresh squeezed lime juice
Serve shaken, straight up. Garnish with three jalapeno slices or more strawberries.
WHAT COULD BE more classic than strawberry shortcake? Here, Shanna O'Hea, chef/co-owner of Academe at the Kennebunk Inn, serves a traditional strawberry shortcake alongside a rhubarb ginger shortcake so you get two tastes of the season at once. With this duo of shortcakes, she says, your guests can enjoy both flavors on their own or mix them to enjoy the strawberry and rhubarb together.
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At Sea Glass in Cape Elizabeth, chef Mitchell Kaldrovich will be serving a strawberry and spinach salad made with baby spinach, goat cheese, pine nuts, fresh strawberries and a honey-sherry vinaigrette.
Courtesy of Sea Glass
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The strawberry and rhubarb shortcake served by chef/owner Shanna O'Hea at Academe at the Kennebunk Inn.
Courtesy of Shanna O'Hea