The other day I had to bring a dish to a dessert potluck. Anticipating tables full of brownies, cupcakes and cookies, I decided to contribute fruit dip and fresh strawberries. I was prepared for a bit of harassment for being the mom who brought something healthy, but what I got instead was an empty bowl and people -- mostly kids -- asking if I had more strawberries. The group hardly touched the fluffy dip.
I'm obviously not the only one who looks forward to this time of year when fresh, bright berries from Florida and California make their way to the produce section. But then I got bummed that my own berry batch isn't looking so good right about now.
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A couple of years ago, the plants really branched out and produced some beautiful little fruit, but winter seems to have decimated my small crop and I'm shopping around for some additional plants.
While most fruit trees take several years to begin bearing, strawberries will be available for harvest that first summer. Here are some other things about strawberries I learned from the people at Bonnie Plants:
• Strawberries are good container plants. If horizontal space is limited, try planting them in a hanging basket or stacked planter; the plants will tumble out over the sides.
• There are two main varieties of strawberries. "June-bearing" bear fruit all at once, usually over a period of about three weeks. Because of their earliness, high quality and concentrated fruit set, June-bearers produce high yields of very large, sweet, juicy berries in late midseason. These are the best variety for preserving. "Ever-bearing" strawberries produce a big crop from spring flowers, set light flushes of fruit through summer, and then bloom and bear again in late summer and fall. These plants are better for large containers or raised beds where you can give them attentive watering and regular feeding.
If you decide to follow my lead and plant your own, make sure the crown is above soil level and the uppermost roots are ¼ inch beneath the soil. Place the plants about 14 to 18 inches apart in neat rows that are separated by 2 to 3 feet each; let runners fill in until plants are 7 to 10 inches apart, the Bonnie Plants people advise. Strawberries like well-drained, fairly rich soil, so use organic compost to prepare the patch and add mulch to keep berries clean, conserve moisture and control weeds.
Berry-licious recipe: If you can't wait until your own strawberries come along to try Triple Berry Scones, I can't blame you. I sure couldn't. I love scones so these were on our breakfast table the other day. The recipe comes from driscoll.com.
Combine 1¾ cup all-purpose flour, ½ cup old fashioned oats, ⅓ cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon orange zest and ¼ teaspoon each baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut 6 tablespoons cubed salted butter (at room temp) into flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add 1 cup mixed berries to flour mixture and toss carefully to coat.
In another bowl, whisk ⅔ cup buttermilk, 1 large egg and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Create a well in center of flour and berry mixture. Pour in buttermilk mixture and gently mix just until dough forms. Flour hands and place dough on a well-floured work surface. Gently knead twice just to form into a ball. Pat into an 8-inch circle, about ¾-inch thick. With a floured spatula or sharp knife, cut into 8 even wedges. Place wedges on a baking sheet lined with parchment, leaving space between wedges. Brush tops with additional buttermilk and sprinkle with additional sugar, if desired. Bake 14 minutes at 400 degrees or until light golden brown. Cool on wire rack.
Culture and cuisine: Author and journalist Nina Mukerjee Furstenau will talk about her book, "Biting Through the Skin," at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 26, at Kendall College in Chicago.
In "Biting through the Skin," Furstenau transforms flat facts of immigration into a story of what makes identity, and how foods become talismanic creations that keep our past alive. The book is part memoir, part traveler's tale and part cultural commentary from the perspective of a first generation immigrant.
The program, presented by Culinary Historians of Chicago and Chicago Foodways Roundtable, costs $3, no charge for Kendall College students. Free parking is available across the street from the school, 900 N. North Branch St., Chicago.
• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at dpankey@dailyherald. com or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend at Facebook.com/DebPankey.DailyHerald or follow her on Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter @PankeysPlate.