Whenever May arrives in Oregon I get antsy. Each time I visit a farmer’s market that restlessness gets worse as I scan the booths. Why? It’s finally strawberry season!
At the beginning of the month the berries start trickling in and soon little pint boxes line tables and counters. I know I can easily go to the store and buy some giant strawberries shipped here from other, warmer places. But the briefness of the Oregon strawberry season is part of its allure.
I love everything about strawberries: picking them, smelling them, eating them until I feel slightly ill, then lounging in the sun covered in their sticky juice. These are memories I want to pass on to children: my own, as well as the children I teach here at Trackers.
Now that the Oregon strawberry season is in full force, we have been celebrating the harvest in many ways. Last week our After School students baked strawberry shortcake, then crushed berries, sugar and lemon juice to top their dessert. Today my daughter is traveling out to Sauvies Island with our Homeschool Program to pick strawberries (though I highly doubt many will make it into her basket). And next week there are rumors of a trip to the neighborhood farmer’s market and strawberry sorbet.
While all of these activities are delicious, they also viscerally connect kids to the seasonal rhythms of the year. In our year-long programs, we take kids outside through all the seasons. We watch how our small part of the world changes with the waning and waxing of sunlight and how that affects plants, animals and our own activities. Fall harvest, cider pressing, gathering acorns and making them into bread, winter fires, raising chicks, eating dandelions, and collecting the first bounty of summer are all parts of the Wilder year. Getting children elbows-deep in the cycle of the natural world is their first step to being connected to the Wilds around them.
And though I love sharing each and every season with my students, not much beats a sun-ripened strawberry picked by happy, dirty kids.
Make: Strawberry Shortcake
These cakes are made in muffin tins, which is easier for little hands and means industrious kids can even bake them in a toaster oven.
For the Berries: Rinse and take the tops off of about 1 lb strawberries (about 4 cups). Mash together with ¼ cup sugar and 1 Tbsp lemon juice. Let sit while you make the shortcake.
For the Shortcake:
1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter either softened or cut into pieces
1 large egg
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix the flour sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Use a fork or your hands to work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mix is grainy.
In a second bowl, beat the egg, heavy cream and milk with a fork until they are mixed. Add vanilla. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the cream mixture. Mix with the fork until the dough is evenly moistened. If the dough seems dry, add more cream or milk, 1 tsp. at a time.
Fill greased muffin tins halfway and sprinkle tops with the remaining 1 Tbs. sugar. Bake until the muffin tops are lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean, 10 to 15 minutes.
Whip 1-2 cups heavy whipping cream. This can be done with a mixer, or for more fun you can put it in a large lidded jar and shake it until it is whipped.
Slice cooled shortcake and top with berries and cream. Best eaten while sitting in the sun.