We keep a little patch in the community garden on the far edge of town. Each year we plant vegetables, some long-time favorites and others new. Along the corner beds, we share strawberry patches with our fellow gardeners. These ever-bearing strawberries begin producing in July and their berries continue popping up here and there until late August or early September when the cold weather begins creep into the mountains once more.
We eat our fill of the berries fresh and out of hand. My son plucks them from the vines, and then drops them into his little wicker basket. They rarely make it home, gobbled up by the handful as we walk from the community garden back home. Occasionally, though, we have enough leftover, often supplemented with what we purchase at our farmers market, to make something special: cakes, pies, and stewed fruit compotes like this one which combines strawberries with rhubarb. One of my favorites, however, is a simple combination of strawberries, sweetener, vanilla bean and fresh mint.
Making Stewed Strawberries
I like to finish our evening meal with something sweet, not much, just a little. Never one for elaborate or heavily sweetened desserts, I tend to favor fruit to finish our meals. We enjoy fruit mostly fresh, but often cooked. Roasting, stewing, sauteing fruits enhances and deepens their flavors, making everyday foods seem somehow more special. As these strawberries stew, and release their juices, their sweet and floral perfume fills the kitchen and emanates into the living room, welcoming my husband and my little boy to the table.
Sweetening the Stewed Strawberries
I favor pairing strawberries with jaggery, a traditional Indian sweetener, made of whole, unrefined cane sugar. Jaggery’s flavor is sweet, to be sure, but also complex and slightly acidic. Unlike white sugar with its single dimension of sweetness, jaggery offers notes of berry and fruit which further enhance the flavor of strawberries. I purchase organic jaggery online.
Serving the Stewed Strawberries
I serve stewed strawberries, and other stewed fruits, over sourdough pancakes or grain-free pancakes, spooned over toasted bread as though it were a liquid jam, or ladled into small bowls, and topped with cream. You can also store the stewed strawberries in a glass jar in your refrigerator for about 5 days.
- Take a sharp paring knife (I use this set), and hull the strawberries by slicing away their green leaves. Then chop the strawberries into 1/2-inch pieces.
- Toss the strawberries into a medium-sized saucepan, and crumble the jaggery over them. Take the vanilla bean and a sharp paring knife, and cut a slit down its length to expose its seeds. Place the vanilla bean into the saucepan with the strawberries and jaggery. Turn the stove to medium-low. Allow the strawberries to stew in the sugar until they release their juices, and those juices turn syrupy - about 15 minutes.
- Turn off the stove. Pluck out the vanilla bean, and scrape its seeds into the strawberries. Stir in the chopped mint, allowing a minute or 2 for the mint to wilt in the residual heat of the strawberries. Serve warm.