This was our first official garden strawberry season and I had to learn a thing or two about keeping these beauties all to ourselves. They had a rough start. As the berries were juuussst starting to ripen, some anonymous critter would sneak in and a take single bite out of each ripening fruit. Just one bite. I wouldn’t be opposed to sharing the crop with our bird and squirrel friends if they were a just little more considerate and not so darn wasteful. Is it so hard to like….I don’t know….eat the entire berry and leave a few whole ones for us? The NERVE!
I always felt like I would grow only what I could grow naturally, with minimal intervention. Squishing cucumber beetles? Fine. But being at war with mammals and birds? That’s not what I had envisioned for our peaceful back yard garden oasis. I’m honoured that the birds choose our yard as a worthy place to come sing their songs, and the squirrels are first-class entertainment for Benji, who wholeheartedly believes that it’s his job to keep them under control. Don’t worry, he stands NO chance at actually catching one, but his enthusiasm and confidence never waver.
We often leave the back yard door open for Benji to come and go as he pleases. He takes plenty of sunny siestas, does his squirrel duty, of course, and helps us keep the grass under control by grazing on the overgrown pasture (I prefer growing vegetables to mowing whatever is left of the lawn). One day I went out to check on him, and guess what? BUSTED! Our very own dog, the one that gets fed a premium home-made raw diet, the one that sleeps in our bed and gets to lick up our plates after every meal, that very dog was one of the mysterious critters taking chunks out of the strawberries.
Forcing him to stay indoors was not an option so I went to the hardware store and bought one of those unsightly net things. I got the kind that said that it wouldn’t hurt the animals on the package (some nets can cause them to get tangled and stuck), but I wasn’t convinced that the net would do no harm. I hesitantly draped it over the strawberry beds, and then proceeded to check on it an unreasonable amount of times over the next couple of days.
I’m happy to report that there were no critters harmed in the growing of these strawberries and we had a beautiful bounty of the most delicious fruit. I even managed to forgive Benji and allow him to help out with the harvest. Watching a dog eat strawberries off the bush is the most adorable thing when it’s not done behind your back.
What is a girl to do with all these incredible strawberries? Eat most of them straight off the bush, mid-day when they’re extra juicy and warm from the sun, then share a little, and finally make Heidi’s Strawberry Salad from Near and Far.
I had my eye on the recipe for a while and since it’s the type of salad that is only as good as the berries going into it, I knew that waiting for strawberry season to make it was going to be worth it.
The flavour combination was such an interesting and delightful surprise. Fresh strawberries are paired with caraway, lemon zest, brown sugar, sea salt, and olive oil, then topped with toasted almonds. My husband was hesitant and said it was too advanced for his palate (we’re working on that), but I absolutely loved it! The caraway and brown sugar inspired me to try the salad with rye bread and I recently discovered the pleasure of home made ricotta (I should say fresh ricotta-like cheese, to be gastronomically correct), so here we are, with a fun new take on strawberry tartines.
- 1.5 lbs of fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
- 3/4 tsp. caraway seeds, lightly toasted
- 1.5 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp. fine-grained sea salt
- 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- zest of 1 lemon
- 8 large slices (or 12 smaller ones) of lightly toasted rye bread
- 1 cup of home-made or store-bought ricotta
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
- fresh thyme, for garnish (optional)
- 1. Place the strawberry quarters in a medium/large serving bowl.
- 2. Bruise the toasted caraway seeds in a mortar and pestle, then add brown sugar and salt and work them in with the caraway.
- 3. Stir in the lemon zest and olive oil
- 4. Just before serving, gently toss the mixture with the strawberries.
- 5. Spoon about 1 - 2 Tbsp. of ricotta onto each toast.
- 6. Top the toasts with strawberry salad, reserving any leftover salad to serve on the side.
- 7. Sprinkle toasted almonds and thyme (if using) on top of the toasts and remaining salad.
- 8. Serve immediately (it does not keep well).