Take advantage of blueberry and strawberry season with these fresh takes on healthy and delicious fruits of spring
Louisiana has an abundance of official symbols (the state doughnut is the beignet, the state crustacean is the crawfish and the state vegetable is the sweet potato, for example), but I only recently learned that we even have an official state fruit. It’s the strawberry, which makes sense on a number of levels.
Strawberries are our leading fruit crop in value (about $8.4 million in 2019), and strawberries are almost universally loved and eagerly anticipated. In most parts of the country, strawberries are a summer treat, but we get ours much earlier. In some years, local strawberries start showing up in January, they reach their peak in the spring and if you want strawberries for your Fourth of July shortcake, you’ll have to import them from California.
The strawberry industry in Louisiana dates from the late 1800s, when Sicilian immigrants started farming strawberries in the area north of Lake Pontchartrain. By 1924, 14,000 acres were planted in strawberries that were shipped to northern markets. Today, the industry is a fraction of that and most of the strawberries stay in Louisiana. Seventy-five percent of the state’s strawberry acreage is in Tangipahoa Parish, where the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival is held in April. Strawberries are a healthful food, providing vitamins C and A, fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, selenium and folate.
Commercial blueberry cultivation in Louisiana goes back about 50 years, and today there are over 300 acres under cultivation that yield a $6.5 million crop. Blueberries, which ripen a little later than strawberries, are extremely high in antioxidants and provide fiber, vitamin C, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc and folate.
In addition to grocery stores and farmers markets, Louisiana strawberries and blueberries are available at pick-your-own farms. It’s worth checking to see if there is one in your area.
This month’s recipe for individual strawberry tarts doesn’t require a special tart pan, which many of us don’t have. It’s made with simple rounds of a buttery crust that are baked and then covered with strawberries and heavy cream that has been amended with sour cream for additional flavor, then whipped until thickened.
Be sure to try the strawberry sorbet, blueberry pound cake and blueberry buttermilk pancake recipes, too.
Vodka is included in the recipe to keep the sorbet from becoming icy. Other types of liquor, such as a strawberry eau de vie, would serve the same purpose while adding flavor.
¾ cup sugar
1½ cups water
1 pound strawberries
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons vodka
To make simple syrup, combine sugar and water in a small pan and bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil for 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let syrup cool before proceeding with recipe.
Wash, hull and slice strawberries. Place strawberries, simple syrup, orange juice and lemon juice in blender and process until liquefied. Press through a fine mesh strainer to remove seeds. Add vodka and chill thoroughly, then process in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Scoop into container and freeze until firm. Remove from freezer 5 or 10 minutes before serving so sorbet will soften slightly. Makes about 1 quart.
Individual Strawberry Tarts
1 pint strawberries
1 tablespoon powdered sugar, or to taste
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Cointreau
Wash, hull and slice strawberries. Place ½ cup of the sliced berries in a blender along with powdered sugar and Cointreau and puree. Add puree to sliced strawberries, adjust sweetness to your taste, and set aside to macerate while you make the pastry.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
¼ cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 400 F. In a mixing bowl, whisk flour, sugar and salt to combine. Cut butter into small pieces and add to bowl. Using fingertips, work butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add heavy cream and mix quickly with a fork until dough begins to come together. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Cut dough into 4 equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll one of the pieces out to a diameter of 4-5 inches. (Don’t obsess over trying to achieve a perfect circle. Free form has its charms!) Place on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining 3 pieces. Prick each crust all over with a fork. Bake in center of oven until lightly browned, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
Combine creams and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until thickened.
If you’re not serving right away, refrigerate strawberries and cream. Just before serving, place a crust on each plate, cover with strawberries and top with a dollop of cream. Makes 4 servings.
Blueberry Pound Cake
½ cup butter, softened
1½ cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¹/8 teaspoon nutmeg
¹/8 teaspoon baking soda
¹/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup plain yogurt, preferably Greek-style
1¹/³ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups blueberries
Preheat oven to 325 F. Butter and flour a standard loaf pan (approximately 9-by-5-by-3 inches).
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and yogurt and mix well. Fold in flour until combined. Fold in blueberries. Turn batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 65 to 70 minutes. Makes about 8 to 10 servings.
Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups buttermilk
4 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup blueberries
Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk to mix well. Add buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter and stir to combine. Gently fold in blueberries. Spoon batter onto a hot, lightly greased griddle and cook until bubbles form on surface of pancake, then turn and cook briefly on the other side. Repeat with remaining batter. Makes 4 servings.