Neither wind nor rain or chance of polar vortex will keep strawberry growers from their appointed rounds — and we've seen it all so far in 2019.
"Strawberries are very susceptible to diseases due to being such a soft and fleshy fruit," says local grower Bill Perry. "The weather is harder on strawberries than most other fruits and vegetables, so that means it takes less of a swing in weather to damage them."
Perry and his business partner, Aubie Smith, have three acres of strawberries on their farm at 9626 Ooltewah-Georgetown Road. The farm, Smith-Perry Berries, is open for pick-your-own fun — a wonderful family outing — or buy them already picked at the farm or at the Ooltewah farmers market every Thursday during strawberry season.
This is the second season the men have grown strawberries, though the farm land has been in Smith's family for years.
Although the Tennessee Valley has experienced record rainfall this year, Smith says it really didn't affect the strawberry plants since they are grown on a hillside to allow for drainage. "The cold snap we had the first week of March after being so warm did get some of the early blooms, so that set us back about a week or so with the harvest," he adds.
There are three varieties of strawberries grown at Smith-Perry Berries. Most are Chandler berries, the No. 1 choice of strawberry growers, but there are some Sweet Charlies and Camarosas, too. Perry predicts berries will be available through the middle of June if things go as they did last year.
When it comes to eating them, Smith says his favorite recipe is simple: Straight off the plant. "I think many people would attest to that," he quips.
Smith says strawberry smoothies would come next on the list, followed by cake — shortcake maybe?
And Dayton, home of the Tennessee Strawberry Festival, is celebrating all things strawberry this week, including a baking contest tonight. It's always fun to see what the cooks come up with.
This recipe, courtesy of Bon Appetit, takes the classic strawberry shortcake up a notch or two. You might think twice about using hard-boiled egg yolks in the crust, but it's an old European baker's trick that makes a shortbread crust very tender when they're pushed through a sieve and work to reduce the amount of gluten in the crust. Too much gluten is what makes crusts tough and chewy. This melt-in-your-mouth crust is what makes this shortcake so delicious — that and, of course, this year's crop of luscious, juicy strawberries.
2 hard-boiled egg yolks, cooled
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons semolina flour or fine-grind cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
Sanding or granulated sugar (for sprinkling)
1 1/2 pounds strawberries (about 1 quart), hulled and halved (quartered if large)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
Shortcakes: Pulse egg yolks, both flours, baking powder, salt and granulated sugar in a food processor to combine. Add butter, and pulse until only pea-size pieces remain. Drizzle in 2/3 cup cream, then pulse 2-3 times to barely incorporate. Transfer dough to a work surface, and gently fold on top of itself several times just to bring it together and work in any dry spots.
Using a 2-ounce ice cream scoop, make 6 balls, and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Do not flatten. (Or measure out mounded scoops with a 1/4-cup measuring cup.) Cover and chill until cold, 20-25 minutes.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush tops of shortcakes with remaining 2 tablespoons cream, and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake until golden and sides are firm to the touch, 28-32 minutes. Let cool.
Do ahead: Shortcakes can be baked 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature. Reheat before serving.
Assembly: Toss strawberries, granulated sugar, lemon zest and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl to combine. Transfer half of strawberries to a large saucepan, and add 1 tablespoon water; let remaining strawberries macerate while you bring strawberries in saucepan to a gentle simmer over medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally and reducing heat, if needed, to keep at a low simmer, until strawberries are starting to break down and become jammy and liquid is syrupy, 12-18 minutes. Let cool, then stir in 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Stir remaining 1 teaspoon lemon juice into macerated strawberries.
Combine 1 cup heavy cream, powdered sugar and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; reserve pod for another use. Beat cream until soft peaks form.
Split shortcakes, and divide strawberry compote, macerated strawberries and whipped cream among bottoms. Close with shortcake tops.
Email Anne Braly at email@example.com.