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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Strawberries in Winter

We grew up Portland, loving Oregon strawberries. There was that short time starting sometime in June and ending the first week of July (if it was a good year), when those beautiful berries were available. That is if all the conditions were just right. If there was too much rain, they rotted on the vine. If there was just enough rain, just enough sun, they were perfect! When we were kids, our Mom would take all seven of us kids out to pick our own berries. We would pick at least a dozen crates, which of course, also meant lots of work, making freezer jam and prepping for freezer containers.

I remember one summer I begged to go to the Teeny Farm to pick strawberries for cash! I'm guessing that I was about 12 or 13 years old. Actually, I only went because we knew that cute boys were going to be there!! A few in particular! I'm sure I never made more than a dollar or two. Not much for a week of "work". I was only there to have some fun and just goofed off most of the time. Sorry Edna! I know we got scolded a lot!

Anyway, once the strawberry season was over, it was over!! I think it was in the early 80's that we started getting "California Berries" during the off season in the Northwest. They were usually hard, very large, an orangish color and they were hollow and white inside. They definitely didn't go over well. Sometimes during the winter, we wanted a fresh strawberry so bad, that we would buy the darkest ones we could find, trim off the reddest part and throw away the white part inside. It wasn't great, but what else could you do.

When we moved to SoCal most of the berries you would see in the stores were exactly like the ones they shipped up north and around the country. About 14 years ago, we happened to pass by a stand that was selling beautiful looking fresh strawberries. They were calling our name, so we turned around to check them out. They looked absolutely amazing! They were deep red, shiny and piled up high in their baskets. We bought 3 baskets and took them home. I was planning everything I was going to do with them; make a batch of freezer jam, slice and sugar some for the freezer and the rest for Strawberry Shortcake. While we were cleaning them up we shared a bite. Yuck!!! They tasted like dirt!! Really, the kind of dirt that you walk on. It was so bad, we actually spit it out! We wanted to take them back and get our money back but it wasn't worth the 40+ mile round trip.

We stayed away from the strawberries for a long time after that experience. That dirt flavor left a taste memory we could not forget. But we are getting closer to a happy strawberry ending. Several years ago we found this place in Costa Mesa that has really good berries most of the year. It is several acres of land covered with strawberries, right in the middle of a business/residential area. We usually plan a stop by their little stand when we head south on the 405. Two weeks ago we stopped by to see if they were open yet and if they had any winter berries. They did and they looked great in the basket. Out of the basket, not so great. They didn't even smell like strawberries! It's just wrong when they put the nice looking berries on top and underneath they are white, hard and rotten. That was a huge disappointment. I ended up throwing most of those away. That is the first time that happened to us at that stand. Note to self: If they don't smell like strawberries, they won't taste like strawberries!

Last weekend, we decided we really wanted some GOOD strawberries so we headed to this little berry stand owned by a Japanese family that we found two years ago on Euclid. Last year we noticed that some people were being handed strawberries that were under the table rather than the ones that were on the table. We asked what they were and were told that they are a very special original heirloom line of strawberries that the family developed in the 50's and have grown ever since then. They are so special, you have to be a local to even know about them or else get lucky like us. They gave us some and whispered, "Just ask for the Cammies." To think that we went there a whole year before we even found out that secret! 
Here they are...
They had Cammies. Aren't they beauties! You can't believe how good they smell! Maybe if you put your nose right on the screen you can catch a whiff!

  Today I decided to make some 
Strawberry Oat Muffins

First, I mixed the oats and buttermilk
and let them sit for 5 minutes.

 Next I mixed the dry ingredients.

Then I mixed the egg, oil, brown sugar and vanilla.

I folded it all together and added the strawberries.

I used "Muffin Top" papers on  a cookie sheet
and filled them using a #19 scoop

Before baking

 I baked them and look at that, it's a Muffin!
They are very easy and quick and turned out perfect. Enjoy!

Now for the rest of the story that no one ever tells you:
*I chopped the strawberries a little too big. 
*The muffin tops papers aren't a good idea for a muffin with large chunks of fruit
*I doubled the vanilla. I usually double the vanilla on every recipe I make 
*I used 1/2 cup of brown sugar instead of the 3/4 cup in the recipe
*I used white whole wheat flour - I use it for everything
*I didn't have buttermilk, but I put 1 tbsp of vinegar in 1 cup of fat free milk      and let it sit for 5 minutes. I'm not kidding, that is a real substitution for buttermilk, I promise!
*I sprinkled a little turbinado sugar on top for a little extra crunch
*Because the pieces of strawberry were so large, I baked them for 25 minutes instead of the 15-20 minutes on the recipe

* And...

this is what they looked like when I took them out of the oven. They were not all perfectly sized and shaped like they always show you. I barely found one good looking one to use for the picture! I just want to be real here. Not everything that gets baked in this oven always looks perfect. Sometimes the magic just isn't there!
They were quick, easy and they are tasty!

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