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Red, White & Ew

June 8, 2017

June. One of the best things about June is that it’s strawberry season in upstate New York. On June 17 there is even a whole strawberry festival in Schaghticoke. Please don’t make me spell that again, and I’m sure that I’m pronouncing the name of the town wrong. I can’t even say Cohoes correctly.

All you do is head north to Clifton Park, make a right. Head through Mechanicville and just keep going east until you hit the smell of strawberries.

Man, I find that smell to be intoxicating. I love the aroma of strawberries. Actually, I love almost everything about strawberries. Just south of Miami there was an amazing strawberry farm I used to go to with my family as a kid. They made the absolute best strawberry milkshakes I ever had.

What I can’t stand about strawberries actually has less to do with the fruit and more about how the crimes committed by home cooks and professional chefs alike. I’m actually more miffed at the chefs, because they should know better. But after today, hopefully we’ll see some improvements.

Here’s an easy question to get us started. What color is a ripe strawberry?

If you said red, give yourself a pat on the back. Personally, I like to go for the smallest strawberries I can find, for more intensely flavored fruit, and look for the ones with the darkest red skins.

Next question. And it’s a little harder. Imagine you take five of the ripest berries you can find, and slice them down the middle. Now open them up and look inside. What color is at the very center?

It depends.

If you did your job well, and were able to pick out the truly ripest berries at the peak of season, the center of that strawberry should be red.

But more often than not, the answer is white. Hopefully, that whiteness just exists as a thin strip at the center of the core. But you may have an underripe cone of stark white strawberry flesh at the center of your berry.

Will the white parts of a strawberry make you sick? Nope.
Are they dangerous? Don’t be silly.
But let’s get real.
They’re bad.
Yep. Bad.
Yuck.

Cut ‘em out. Quite literally. Grab a paring knife and cut out those bland, wet, woody cores. What? Are you concerned about food waste? Well, so am I. So let’s back up a bit.

The cores of strawberries can be made infinitely less unpleasant by cutting up the berry and macerating it with sugar. By breaking down cell walls and releasing those juices into a bowl, those white bland parts of the berry will pick up both color and flavor.

These macerated berries can work well in a variety of dishes.

However, when you are using a fresh strawberry as garnish, to crown some kind of dish, or in some other setting where it will be on full display, it best not be showing off its pale underbelly.

What does it say about a chef when such a berry is presented to a guest?

It’s not like this is a small detail that can slip by easily unnoticed. So it could mean that a chef saw that something wasn’t right and decided to serve it anyway. Or, it could indicate that a chef didn’t even realize that underripe white-cored strawberries aren’t desirable in the first place.

I’m not sure which is more damning.

Home cooks are more easily excused. After all, if they have grown up seeing restaurant chefs and professional bakers presenting strawberry dishes with red and white berries on full display, this is a learned deficiency.

The sad truth is that upstate New York doesn’t produce the same kind of perfectly ripe strawberries that you can find out in California. So it’s only natural that lots of people remain in the dark about what the joy this glorious fruit is truly capable of delivering when ripened in full.

But once you’ve experienced a fully red strawberry, those white cores just won’t do.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. hokiemom permalink
    June 8, 2017 10:41 am

    the berries are out there, it’s just that the season (and weather variability) is so short – perfect strawberries…..nothing like them – we wait for them, and dream of them out of season

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