My kids lucked out in the dad department. Theirs doesn’t raise his voice. His jokes are more funny than not. And when they were small, he’d arrange their breakfast items into faces on their plates. There were blueberry eyes, banana smiles, bacon eyebrows, Cheerio goatees, blackberry ears, orange segment sideburns and strawberry noses.

Their Goldilocks problem with these fairytale collages, though, was that Dad didn’t give a hoot whether the berries were too soft, too hard, or just right.

“He gave us smooshed berries again, Mommy,” was a common complaint as I was handed my morning tea. These kids are soft, was his repeated reply; they don’t know how good they’ve got it. To keep the peace, I vowed to use up the mushy but not yet moldy berries in other ways if he’d set them aside while searching out the firmer fruit for our precious little ones.

The simplest solution was to throw the overripe, bruised berries (hulled if they were strawberries) into a quart container in the freezer until there was a quorum for making something berry useful in the kitchen. If I had ample volume, time and clean canning jars, I made jam. Because I rarely have those three things at the same time, I’ve developed a repertoire of products that take varying amounts of each.

If I have few berries (like a half cup) and no time. I mix them with an equal amount of white wine vinegar in a covered jar, give the jar a shake, let it sit on the counter overnight, strain it, and store this berry vinegar in the refrigerator for use in salad dressings.

If I have few berries and a little time on my hands, I’ll cook 1/2 cup honey for 3 minutes in a nonreactive pot, carefully add 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup fruit and a few sprigs of a hearty herb like thyme or rosemary and simmer the mixture to get a syrup. Once I strain the solids and compost them, I have colorful gastrique, a sweet-and-sour sauce that is at home on a plate of grilled pork as it is topping a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

If I have more berries (like a quart) and no time to devote to a hands-on project, I macerate them with sugar for two days in the fridge, add vinegar, wait two more days and strain the mixture to make a Colonial-era flavored drinking vinegar called a shrub.

If I’ve got a lot of wrinkled fresh berries of the same type and have plans to hang around the house for three or four hours, I’ll spread them on a baking sheet so they don’t touch, set my oven to 150 degrees and dehydrate them for future use in everything from cereal and DIY granola bars to double (dried and fresh) berry pies and low-sugar, no-waste trail mix.

When I have a quart of overripe strawberries on my hands, and I know I am not alone in that fate at this time of year, I follow the advice food writer Eugenia Bone lays out in her book “The Kitchen Ecosystem” and make strawberry puree. This process involves simmering the chopped berries with ½ cup water, mashing them as you go to soften them quickly. After about five minutes, you process the berries through a food mill, add 1/2 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon lemon juice and stir that mixture over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Bone processes the puree in a hot water bath to make it shelf stable, but I stick mine in jars in the freezer.

This bright, flavorful puree makes a pretty addition to cake batters, whipped cream, meringues, bread puddings and soufflés, and no one will notice that the berries were mushy at some point in the past.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Strawberry Soufflé

The secret to a tall soufflé is to not overbeat the egg whites in the first place. Whipping them to soft rather than stiff peaks gives the egg proteins more room to grow in the oven. But if these soufflés (adapted from a Eugenia Bone recipe first published in the Denver Post) fall before you get to them to the table, don’t fret. Rather, spoon another tablespoon of strawberry puree over each one, and call them Sunken Berry Cakes with Homemade Berry Puree.

Makes 6 individual soufflés

2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup sugar plus more for dusting ramekins

3 eggs, separated

1/3 cup strawberry puree (see column)

Pinch salt

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Confectioners’ sugar for garnish

Set a rack about 2/3 the way up in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter six (8-ounce) ramekins and dust each one generously with sugar.

Use an electric mixer to beat the egg yolks and the 1/3 cup sugar until the mixture is very light yellow and falls from the beater in ribbons, 3-4 minutes. Whisk in the strawberry puree and set aside.

Combine the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in a clean bowl. Use an electric mixture fitted with clean beaters, to whip the egg whites, first on low for 1 minute, and then on high until they can hold a soft peak, about 2 minutes more.

Add a large spoonful of the egg white to the egg yolk mixture and stir it in well to lighten the batter. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites.

Divide the batter evenly among the ramekins, place them on a baking tray, slide the tray into the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Serve immediately with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar.


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