How to Use a Flat of Strawberries in Five Days, 2012 Edition

How beautiful are these berries?

This time last year, I wrote a post about how to use a flat of strawberries in five days or less. In that post, I explained that when you buy a flat of strawberries — which is equal to eight quarts — at the Oak Park Farmers’ Market, there is typically a discount of 25% over buying individual quarts. I am not good at math, but years of shopping have taught me that 25% off is a good thing. (Not as good a thing as 50% off though.)

Strawberries are highly perishable, though, so if you buy or pick them in large quantities, you need to start using them up right away. If you aren’t going to use eight quarts of strawberries before they go bad, then the discount from buying in bulk doesn’t help you at all. Plus, this year, when the local fruit crops have suffered so much damage due to the crazy warm March weather that was followed by a cold and rainy April, buying strawberries that you don’t use is akin to taking strawberries out of some deprived fruit-lover’s mouth. So, it’s important to know how to use up this many strawberries before you plunk down your money.

I plainly did not learn my lesson from last June’s frantic five days of strawberry-based cooking. On my very first trip to the Oak Park Farmers’ Market for 2012, I asked every single vendor selling strawberries what the price was for a flat. The best price I got was $35 — note that’s $5 more than last year. Sold. In my excitement over the first market of the season, I also came home with asparagus, rhubarb, English shelling peas, golden and Chiogga beets and farm eggs. My husband just shook his head as I walked in the door. Then he preceded to watch the kids for the entire three-day weekend while I cooked like crazy. Thanks honey!

Here’s how we used up our eight quarts of berries:

  • 1 quart went to strawberry-rhubarb jam
  • 2 quarts went to strawberry balsamic jam
  • 1 quart just gotten eaten out of hand
  • 1 quart went to strawberry lemonade
  • 2 quarts went to strawberry shortcake (recipe in link above) for eight people that we brought to a Memorial Day barbeque
  • 1 quart went to strawberry-basil syrup

If you want to learn to make strawberry-rhubarb jam, well then, you’re going to have to come to my class this Sunday at Green Home Experts in Oak Park. If you want to learn to make strawberry-balsamic jam, you should probably come to my class too. It’s not that different. Strawberry-balsamic jam may sound weird but it is absolutely delicious because the balsamic vinegar magically enhances the strawberries’ flavor and prevents them from being cloying, which they can be on their own. To make this jam, simply replace all or most of the lemon juice called for in a typical strawberry jam recipe with the balsamic vinegar.

The strawberries and basil macerate in the sugar overnight.

The strawberry-basil syrup was a new project for me this year. I had resolved to make more drink syrups after I fell in love with the sour cherry syrup that I made (with frozen sour cherries from last summer) for the April Chicago Food Swap. I pretty much drink seltzer all day long and I love spiking it with fruit syrups for extra flavor — which also sadly adds calories, but at least it’s better than drinking juice or soda.

Homemade fruit syrups also can add an element of coolness to a dinner or cocktail party. At my elegant dinner party in February, I served a cocktail made with the sour cherry syrup, bitters and Prosecco. It was delicious! This strawberry basil syrup would work just as well in a cocktail and I bet you could think of more uses for it than just drinking. Like if you wanted to share it with the kids or something. Drizzle it over ice cream, a pound cake or even pancakes for a special treat. Then go back to mixing it with vodka. The kids get enough treats.

Fruit syrups are a bit labor-intensive — mostly because they have to be strained — but they are such a fun item to have in your pantry. You can preserve this syrup for shelf-stability in a water-bath canner or simply refrigerate it if you aren’t a canner. (And then come to my class at Green Home Experts so you can become a canner.)

Strawberry-Basil Syrup
Adapted from The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves by Linda Ziedrich

1 quart strawberries, hulled
4 3/4 cups sugar
Juice of one lime
12 basil leaves

Combine berries and 2 1/2 cups of sugar in a large bowl. Crush the berries with a potato masher. Stir. Add basil leaves. Allow to stand at room temperature, covered, for at least 8 hours, or overnight.

Puree the mixture in a food processor. Add puree to a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add the remaining 2 1/4 cups sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce heat and boil mixture gently for five minutes, skimming to remove any foam that accumulates. Remove from heat. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing down on the pulp and stirring to push the liquid through. (I actually ended up processing the pulp as jam, as per Ziedrich’s suggestion.) Return strained syrup to the pot and add lime juice. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat. Pour into clean, warm pint jars. (Recipe yields approximately 2 pints. ) Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes for shelf-stability or refrigerate.