Before fruits and vegetables were grown for sturdiness and transportability, they were grown for their unique flavor and the immediacy of their consumption. With the summer season growing near, it is hard not to notice our inability to procure a decent strawberry. What should be ruby nubbins of cherubic delight have morphed into mealy, tough, white-fleshed orbs with barely a passing resemblance to their original state. And this should make us very sad. For how many of us have really tasted the true essence of a strawberry – rich, redolent and bursting with summer flavor? As I lament the difficulty in obtaining this sensory pleasure, I still hold fast to the hope that we will once again be able to savor the sweet juiciness of this marvelous fruit. In the meantime, I offer two suggestions. The first, to buy locally grown strawberries from your farmer’s market. The other, to drown your sorrows over this unfortunate scenario with a drink recipe from Andrew McDowell, proprietor of Crown & Sceptre Hotel in Adelaide, Australia.
10 strawberries, hulled and halved
2 T. vanilla sugar
90 ml clear apple juice
30 ml lime juice
150 ml Martin Miller’s Gin
8 basil leaves, torn
To taste: Champagne or sparkling wine, chilled
To serve: basil leaves and cucumber slices
Process strawberries, sugar and juices in a blender until smooth. Pour into a large glass pitcher. Add gin and basil and stir. Pour into tall glasses filled with ice cubes and sliced strawberries. Top with Champagne or sparkling wine and serve over ice in tall glasses. Garnish with a basil leaf and a slice of cucumber and serve.
Note: To make vanilla sugar, place one whole vanilla bean in 1 cup sugar and keep in closed glass jar for one week. To intensify the flavor, remove the vanilla bean from the glass jar and cut down the length of the bean, opening up the bean with your knife and scraping out the seeds inside. In a blender add the sugar, the vanilla bean seeds, and the rest of the bean (which has been cut into 1” pieces) and pulse on the “grind” setting. The sugar will turn gray in color and be perfumed intensely with vanilla. Sift the sugar to remove the vanilla bean fragments. Use the sugar as called for in the recipe.
Vanilla sugar is also available from Penzey’s.