• 66°

April Showers bring the freshest fruit

By Lisa Tindell

Fresh fruits – and plenty of them, especially strawberries right now. I can’t imagine a spring meal that isn’t finished with a dessert that holds fresh fruit as the main component.

Now, we are in the south, so we certainly have to add a lot of other good things to the fruit to make it simply irresistible.

Cream cheese? Sure. Sweetened condensed milk? Why not? Real, homemade whipped cream? Of course!

I know that strawberries are just getting a good start on the season – but don’t blink. That season passes way to quickly in my opinion. I can’t seem to get enough fresh strawberries in my system before they disappear from fruit stands and pick-up truck tailgates way too soon for my liking. Once they start disappearing, it’s time to figure out the best way to prepare these wonderful pieces of heaven so that we can enjoy them later. I’ll get to preserved/frozen strawberries in a bit, but for right now, I want to share one or two of my favorite strawberry recipes that have become staples in our family.

I came across this first recipe a few years ago and have grown to really love it. Every recipe should be considered a guide and should be adjusted based on the taste preferences of those who will be enjoying the dish. But, really, this one is perfect as it is. It’s super easy and is great for any family dessert or even a church potluck (if we ever get to do that again).

Strawberry and Cream Cheese Cobbler

1 cup unsalted butter, melted

1⁄2 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 3 tablespoons, divided

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

3⁄4 teaspoon salt

2 cups whole milk

4 cups fresh strawberries, halved

1⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pour melted butter into a 13×9-inch baking dish Place cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed until smooth, and fluffy. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl to make sure all of the cream cheese is smoothly blended. Add In the bowl of a stand mixer beat cream cheese at medium speed until creamy, stopping to scrape sides of the bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of the sugar to the cream cheese and continue beating until well combined. Stir in vanilla and blend until well incorporated. In a separate large bowl, combine together the flour, baking powder and salt and 1 ½ cups sugar. Add the milk to the flour mixture and whisk until smooth. Pour the batter into the pan with the melted butter. Arrange strawberries over the batter and drop spoonfuls of the cream cheese batter over top. Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 45 minutes or until a wood pick, inserted in the center, comes out clean. Sprinkle the top with confectioners sugar and serve warm. You may also choose to serve this dessert with prepared whipped cream, I’m just saying.

Now, for putting some of those wonderfully, red pieces of fabulous away for another time. There are a few different ways to preserve strawberries.

The most popular – and quite frankly the best way to preserve strawberries – is freezing. The worst part about this method is that they don’t return to the original glory when thawed. But, that’s fine. Those soft, flimsy berries will still be fabulous in smoothies, lemonade and even some baked desserts.

To freeze strawberries, be sure to clean them before preparing them for the freezer. Remove the green tops and any blemishes. If you choose to wash them in or under water, be sure to dry them afterwards. The less water on the surface of the berry, the fewer ice crystals there will be in the frozen berry. The ice crystals are what give the berry that mushy texture when it is thawed, so avoiding as many as possible will result in the best and firmest fruit possible using this method. Once you have cleaned the fruit, cut larger berries into halves or quarters and leave small ones whole. Spread the fruit out on a sheet pan and freeze for two hours. Scoop the fruit into freezer-safe containers or freezer zip top bags. Be sure to label them with the date they are frozen and use them up within six months.

If you want your strawberries to be sweetened when you remove them for later use, now is the time to add a little sugar.  Cut strawberries in half or slice completely depending on your future plans. For each quart of berries, add one-half cup sugar and toss to combine. It’s best to quickly scoop the berries into a container or bag for freezing, since the sugar will pull juices from the berries rather quickly. If you want lots of juice for your next use of these berries, allow them to sit in the sugar overnight before freezing.

My personal preference is to put sweetened strawberries in my freezer in one-cup portions. You can always pull out a few bags if needed for a recipe and a one-cup portion is perfect for that gallon of wonderful 4th of July lemonade!

I hope that you have an opportunity to enjoy some wonderful strawberries this season and even get a few in the freezer for the months ahead. Strawberries really are the heart spring.