Ruby-Red, Fragrant Fraises des Bois: Life’s Sweetest Little Luxuries…

July 2nd, 2010 § 5 comments § permalink

Fraises des Bois, or alpine strawberries, offer a continuous supply of summertime fruit – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Oh the magic of Fraises des Bois! To me, they look as if they belong at the center of a tiny table in an enchanted forest; one set just for leprechauns, fairies, nymphs and elves. Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are fragrant, delicious and easy to grow. Sometimes called ‘the wood strawberry’, this rose-relative is a separate species from the common garden strawberry, (Fragaria x ananassa), and is native to North America, Europe, northern Africa and some parts of Asia. Unlike their runner-forming cousins, these lovely mounded plants produce fruit throughout the growing season – spring to fall. Many cultivars are available, including the delightful red ‘Alexandra’ and ‘Mignonette’, and for the more kaleidoscopic plate, there are even white and yellow alpine strawberries! Strawberries of all kinds are best planted out to the garden in early spring – but it is important to prepare the site well in advance (unless you are growing in containers). So if you would like to grow alpines in your potager next year – read on….

Alpine strawberries are herbaceous perennials (the foliage dies back in fall and then returns from hardy roots in spring). Many cultivars are very cold hardy (some to -30 degrees fahrenheit) and they can be grown directly in the garden, or in containers – especially strawberry planters – on decks, patios, steps and terraces (if grown in containers, the berry plants are best moved indoors for overwintering in cold climates). Alpine strawberries are easy-care perennials, and they are usually propagated from seed (collected or purchased),  or easier yet, by division of plants. All strawberries prefer slightly acidic (pH 6-6.5), hummus-rich, well-drained soil. Growing strawberries on a slight slope  –raised bed or in containers– helps to provide both drainage and air-circulation. When grown directly in the garden (as I grow mine), spacing plants at least 16″ apart will result in best fruit production. Mulch is important both to protect the shallow roots from dehydration and temperature fluctuations. In winter, I heap mounds of clean straw over alpine and common strawberry plants, and I try to protect them from late spring frosts with removable row covers (though as patches increase in size, this becomes much less feasible). Alpine strawberry plants can and should be divided every few years – in cold climates this is best done in early spring so that the root systems will have time to establish. Early fall division is also possible, though much riskier in zones north of USDA 6. When the task is undertaken early in the season, the easiest way to make more alpine strawberries is through division of the underground stolons (though collecting and drying seed for germinating indoors works too, if you are patient). I fertilize all strawberry plants with good compost, and I regularly test the soil in all of my garden beds to assure a proper balance of key nutrients (particularly phosphorus)…

The jewel-like color of the fruit, sensational fragrance and sweet flavor more than compensate for the tiny size of alpine strawberries. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Alpine strawberry blossoms ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Frais des Bois at harvest ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Competition for alpine strawberries comes in many forms; from weeds and insects to chipmunks, mice and birds. In my garden, the boisterous mocking bird clan living in the adjacent scrub seems particularly interested my strawberry crop this year. I do love their singing and bug catching, but I wish the mocking birds, robins and other winged-robbers would stay away from my strawberries! Now, don’t you feel too bad for my feathered friends – they have plenty of wild elderberries (Samubus canadensis), bramble berries and bugs to feast upon. If birds are snagging your berries, you can always cover them with safe Bird Netting, which allows air flow and pollinating bees to fly in and out. Alternately you could use insect pop-ups (such as those linked below) set in place when berries are close to harvest, and then removed at intervals for critical wind and bee pollination. Slugs can be a real problem during rainy periods (copper edged raised beds, beer traps and diatomaceous earth are some commonly used deterrents), and insects –particularly sap beetles, tarnished plant bugs and bud weevils — are always an issue with strawberries of all kinds. Never apply an insecticide, even an organic insecticide, during bloom periods, as you will kill beneficial insects (including our precious honeybees) along with the less desirable, ‘bad bugs’.  For backyard berry growers, I advise hand-picking insects and the limited use of row covers (see below) when berries are close to ripe.

For more on berry growing, check out my review of Barbara Bowlings excellent Berry Grower’s Companion (linked here) available through Barnes & Noble online. And say tuned… More berry growing tips will be coming soon!

Containers with pockets, like the one pictured from Amazon above, are a great way to grow alpine strawberries.

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Article and photographs, (excepting last four by affiliates), © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Welcome Summer! Greeting the Solstice: Sweet Memories, Beautiful Dreams, Stylish Cocktails and Festive Sparkles…

June 21st, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

Sunset Mangotini – The Perfect Drink for the Longest Day of the Year…  Photograph ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Solstice memories. It was the longest day of the year -and I was eight years old- when I snuck out on a stylin’ new, metallic-orange bicycle for my first unauthorized ride. Off, down the long bumpy driveway I went; coasting out onto the main road with the wind in my hair. The freshly coated pavement, patched with tar and gravel, made my eyes water… The smell of freedom. A little plastic flower basket, carrying who-knows-what, bobbed up and down on the front of my bike as I cruised past cornfields and cows, crackling power-lines and abandoned pickup trucks, and the newly-arrived summer residents, their windows trimmed with flower boxes and their yards filled with the scent of smoking bar-b-ques. School was out and time stretched before me like a warm, open ocean…

Summer. Seduced by the length of the day, I veered off the pavement onto a dirt road and ditched my bike along a familiar path where shadowy, fern-covered banks wound down to an inky brook. Running breathless, I kicked my hot sneakers to the rocks and waded knee-deep into chilly bliss. Before long I heard familiar sounds; the squeak of bicycle breaks and the laughter of friends through the pines. As I squinted in the blinding light, I made out the blurry, flickering silhouettes of my partners in crime as they sprinted down the hill. Oh the sweet taste of  forbidden-rendezvous success! We giggled and gossiped and splashed for hours, ’till the light began to fade, and then we peddled back out to the main road together. Drunk on the sweet elixir of liberation, we dawdled; gathering daisies and tiger lilies, and tasting tiny, wild strawberries along the side of the road. By the time we parted, the sky had faded from deep blue to violet, and fireflies lit the road. For a moment the world stood still, and the summer night swirled around us like a luminous, green blizzard… Frozen in time.

Oh yes, I caught hell for that naughty joy-ride -and understandably so- but it was soooo worth it. Sometimes a little bad tastes awfully good, wouldn’t you agree?

Welcome warm temptress Summer – the season of sweet memories and beautiful dreams. Here’s to wildflowers, bright red strawberries, glowing sunsets, and sparkling summer nights….

Pure White Daisies…

Beautiful Thunderstorms…

Sweet Red Strawberries…

Warm, Sunset Kisses…

And glowing mangotinis…

The Sunset Mangotini


Ingredients for one cocktail, (adjust quantities 1:1) *

2 ounces of fresh, ripe mango puree (peeled and processed in cuisinart)

1 ounce of ice cold vodka

1/2 oz of Cointreau (orange flavored liqueur)

Freshly picked, deep violet-colored pansy blossoms

*a non-alcoholic version of this drink may be enjoyed by combining the mango puree with 1/2 ounce of orange flavoring as a liqueur substitute, (available in fine grocery stores). Skip the vodka and prepare according to directions*

Directions:

Chill martini glasses in the freezer well ahead of time. Prepare ripe mangoes by peeling, pitting and placing wedges of the fruit in a food processor with a metal blade. Puree until smooth. Set aside.

In a cocktail shaker filled half full with cracked ice, pour the vodka, orange liqueur and mango juice. Replace the top and shake well. Strain the contents into a frosty, chilled martini glass and serve garnished with at least one -or better yet two- violet colored pansies.

Enjoy the glow of the summer sun as it sets in your glass…

Cheers! Wishing You a Glorious, Sparkling Summer!

xo Michaela

Strawberry Flirt (click here for post)

Search for other summer cocktails with garden-fresh ingredients by clicking here…

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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The Strawberry Shortcake Facial – A (Mostly-True) Country Girl Story, Where Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest Meet Fruit Mush. Plus, a Really Great Recipe for Strawberry Shortcake. I Swear…

June 12th, 2010 § 6 comments § permalink

Strawberry Shortcake with Homemade Butter Biscuits…

I grew up in a strawberry patch. Yes, I mean that literally. My family grew and sold organic berries, and when I was a kid, my sister and I spent many hours in the strawberry fields picking and tending the crops. Once you’re a grownup, this sounds pretty idyllic. However for a couple of kids, it’s kind of boring to pick berries for hours and hours on a beautiful summer day. You have to use your imagination to break up the monotony. And since my sister and I were always pretty inventive, we found plenty of creative ways to entertain ourselves…

If you’ve ever grown strawberries -or spent time picking them on hazy summer days- you know that there is a point in late June when the berries ripen so quickly, that you can’t keep up with the harvest. Add humid weather -which we often get in New England- and a few days of steady rain, and soon all of the over-ripe berries start rotting right on the plants. My dad instructed us to pick off these mushy, often slimy berries, to protect the rest of the crops from mold. And sometimes, after a particularly wet week, we would have as many throw-away berries as market-worthy fruits. Usually we would fling these slimy rejects as far away as we could; aiming for distant trees, clanging tin pie plates, wooden stakes or the odd scarecrow. Sometimes, we would collect the mushy berries and pile them on rocks for hungry chipmunks, or toss them into the meadow for birds. But then we got another idea…

This was the 1980’s and, as country kids, we were pretty fascinated with the glam city-culture beyond our reach.  T.V. Shows like Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest, mostly airing past our bedtime -though our mom was pretty lenient about those kinds of things- were populated with sexy characters who sauntered around in puffy-shoulder pads, silky robes and high heeled mules. Talk about another world. Things like sports cars, cocktail parties, private jets, exotic spas, pedicures and facials were a big part of those fictitious women’s lives. In fact, much of their scheming seemed to take place during conversations on their boudoir telephones, while (unbeknownst to their male love-interests) goopy masks of one sort or another were smeared upon their pouty pusses. At the time, our mom was also into beauty treatments, though her’s didn’t come in Borghese or Chanel jars like those we saw on Alexis Carrington’s dresser. My mother of course made her own facial concoctions from what we thought to be truly gross ingredients; mostly things you would eat -but usually not in combination- like yogurt, eggs, cucumbers and lemon juice. Definitely NOT glam. But somehow, we must have been influenced…

I’m not really sure of how it all started. Maybe it was our mom’s idea, or maybe it was something we came up with. Maybe it was an accident, and maybe it was on purpose. Anyway, one hot afternoon, certainly following some drama, a handful of smashed berries ended up on someone’s face. And then another handful… And another… And another… Until our faces were completely covered in mushy strawberry goo. Of course this reduced us to gut-splitting giggles, and we thought it was all pretty hysterical -and outrageous – but somehow we decided it was also very, very glam. This ‘spa treatment’ came to be known as the ‘strawberry shortcake facial’, and it was all the rage that summer in the field. Yes, I know we weren’t the first -and definitely won’t be the last- kids to smear strawberry mush on our faces… But it sure is a sweet summer memory…

Strawberries are still my favorite fruit, and although my berry patch is quite small when compared to the one I grew up with, I do grow several different varieties in my garden. This year the early-bearing crops are fruiting a bit ahead of schedule, and even the alpine strawberries are beginning to turn red. Strawberries are easy to grow, and I will be posting more on the subject soon. But if you are just starting a patch for yourself, you may want to skip ahead and check out the post “Strawberry (and Blueberry and Raspberry and Kiwi) Fields Forever” I wrote for B&N’s Garden Variety earlier this week, featuring a review of Barbara Bowling’s great guide to raising small fruit, The Berry Growers Companion.

As soon as they are ripe, the first thing I always make with my fresh strawberries is shortcake. To me, this treat signals the unofficial start of summer. And to this day, whenever I pluck ruby ripe berries in the field, and slice them to make strawberry shortcake -my favorite summertime dessert- I think of my sister and our glamorous fresh-fruit facials. And you want to know a secret? Sometimes, when I am by myself, I still sneak a bit of the strawberry shortcake mash on my face as a special ‘treatment’. Truth be told, on rainy days, I might even do it while scheming on the phone. Hey, it’s like I always say: who says a gardener can’t be glamorous… ?

Freshly Washed Strawberries from the Garden…

Strawberry Shortcake

Ingredients (Serves 6)

4           Cups washed and sliced strawberries – plus extra for garnish

1           Tbs sugar, (adjust to tartness of berries)

1           Pint whipping cream

1/2       Tsp vanilla

Fresh mint leaves for garnish (optional)

Biscuits

2            Cups flour

2 1/2     Tsp baking powder

1            Tsp salt

6            Tbs unsalted, chilled butter, plus extra for serving

3/4         Cup whole milk (plus extra for brushing biscuits)

Directions:

In order to get a juicy bowl of shortcake, you need to start at least an hour ahead. I don’t hull freshly picked berries, but if you prefer to do this, hull right before you slice them, or they will dry out. Wash and pick over the berries, and slice them, (not too thin… gross), into a bowl. Mash about 1/3-1/2 of them, but don’t turn the whole bowl into mush, (again, gross). Add sugar, tasting as you go, then cover the bowl and refrigerate for an hour or so. You can whip the cream and vanilla ahead of time too, if you like, and refrigerate. Some people prefer sugar in their whipped cream. I like mine unsweetened in this instance, to create a contrast between the tart/sweet berries and the vanilla-tinted cream.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients together well. Cut the butter into thin slices, (about 10), and mix into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender. Work the dough until it’s crumbly and resembles cornmeal. Add the milk and quickly mix it together, blending well. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it just a bit.

Roll the dough out 1/2 inch thick and cut into 3 inch round discs with a cookie cutter or pastry form. You should end up with about 8 biscuits. Place the biscuits on an unbuttered cookie sheet and brush with milk.

Bake 15 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Remove promptly. Split hot biscuits in half and place them in bowls. Spread with fresh butter. Once the butter has melted, add a generous amount of berries and whipped cream to one biscuit, then top with the other biscuit, and repeat. Garnish with fresh mint and a whole berry, and serve warm.

Dallas on DVD !!!

Dynasty on DVD !!!

Article and almost all photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Photos of Messy Michaela by an Anonymous Accomplice

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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