The people's voice of reason

Spring is here, and that means strawberries!

You've probably already noticed the fresh strawberries at local farmer's markets. While modern farming and supply chains make strawberries available year-round, there's nothing quite like the taste of a fresh strawberry grown right here in Alabama.

Strawberries aren't just a treat for your taste buds. They're loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber, so you can enjoy them with little or no guilt. Blessed as we are here in Alabama, we can enjoy their deliciousness fresh from the farm for most of the late spring and summer months.

To pick the best strawberries, look for a bright red color and a fresh green cap. Avoid those with bruises or soft spots, as those poor berries have probably been abused. Gently squeeze the berry; if it's ripe, it should have a little "give". Too firm means it's not ready. Too soft, and it may still be good, but it needs to go into a dish or a jar of preserves ASAP.

To clean your strawberries, rinse--don't soak--them under cool running water and gently pat dry. Soaking can damage them, and the longer you let strawberries sit underwater, the more likely this is. Strawberries are best eaten within a day or two after you buy them, but if you need to store them for longer, keep them in the fridge, unwashed, in a shallow container lined with paper towels.

There are countless ways you can enjoy this taste of sunshine and happiness, from adding them to your breakfast cereal to that late-night snack. Adding sliced strawberries to any green salad makes them the perfect compliment to any meal, and then, of course, there's the desserts.

Here's a springtime twist on a classic Christmas cranberry relish using strawberries to make it appropriate for the season:



1 navel orange

1 apple

1 cup of strawberries, cut up

½-1 cup sugar

Slice the orange into ⅛'s, leaving the peel on the orange

Core and slice the apple into ⅛'s, leaving the peel on

Cut up strawberries until you have a cup (or two, if you really like strawberries)

In a food processor, finely chop the orange (peel and all), then the apple and add each to a large mixing bowl.

Gently process the strawberries, or just finely chop them by hand. You're not looking to make a puree here, just have little bits of strawberries about the same size as the bits of orange and apples.

Fold the orange, apple, and strawberries together

Add sugar and continue stirring until well mixed

Place in a lidded container and refrigerate at least 1-2 hours or overnight

As this sits, the sugar will develop into a syrup as the juices are drawn out of the fruit. The original recipe called for a 1:1:1:1 ratio of oranges to apples to cranberries (cups) to sugar (cups), and if you really have a sweet tooth you might want to try this. Or, if you want to put nasty old Great Aunt Opel into a diabetic coma, use a cup and a half of sugar. It probably won't kill her, but you can always hope.

Use your strawberry relish as a sweet counterpart to pickle relish or chow chow, add it to cereal or oatmeal in the morning, or use it in place of sliced or pureed strawberries in desserts for a bit of extra kick. The bite of bitter from the orange peel, the crisp flavor of the apple, and the sweetness of strawberries and sugar syrup make this relish an explosion of tastes in your mouth!

If you have little ones around, here's a kid-friendly dessert they can help prepare.



1 Strawberry Jello®, 6 oz. box (the big size)

1 angel food cake (store-bought)

1 Cool Whip®, 8 oz. (regular size)

1-2 cups strawberries, sliced

Prepare the strawberry Jello® according to the package instructions in advance (you want it chilled and firm)

Tear the angel food cake into roughly 1" cubes--this is the part kids love to do. Get them to not squish the cake down by telling them "We're making little clouds, not pancakes." Show them how first, then let them enjoy themselves.

Mash the Jello® into small- to medium-sized bits (again, let the kids do this if they can)

Fold together the angel food cake pieces, Jello® and Cool Whip®

Add most of your strawberries and gently continue folding until well mixed

Refrigerate well, and garnish with remaining strawberries before serving.

Your kids can proudly tell everyone how this is THIER dessert that THEY made. When that old hag Opel screeches at them and makes them cry, give her an extra serving of relish and don't remind her that she left her insulin baking in the hot car outside.

You'll probably find yourself needing a quick and easy yet impressive cake to take somewhere this spring and summer, so here's a version based on the "Doctored Strawberry Cake Mix Recipe". I've yet to get a bad recipe from MyCakeSchool, and this one isn't just easy, it's delicious. This recipe begins with a box of cake mix and jazzes it up, which is great for inexperienced bakers and those of us who are too busy to whip up a scratch cake. This is also a good recipe to start teaching kids to love cooking, as it's easy enough for them to help as well as do their duty as beater- and bowl-lickers.



1 box white cake mix

1 box strawberry Jello®, 3 oz (the little size)

3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 eggs

¾ cup vegetable oil

½ cup milk

¾ cup pureed ripe strawberries (or frozen strawberries)

For the topping:

1 Cool Whip®, 8 oz. (regular size)

½-1 cup fresh strawberries, whole or sliced, for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Grease and flour a 9" x 13" pan (I like disposable aluminum pans if I'm taking this cake somewhere--that way I don't have to worry about getting a good pan or dish back)

Add all the ingredients to a mixing bowl EXCEPT for the Cool Whip® and strawberries for the topping

Mix on low speed until blended, then on medium speed for about 2 minutes (make sure you scrape the sides of the bowl as needed) until everything is well blended

Bake for 30 minutes or until done (when a toothpick comes out clean)

Let cool

Slather the top with Cool Whip® and garnish with either whole or cut strawberries to make it look pretty

Serve as is or with a dollop of Strawberry Relish on the side

If you really want to impress people with this cake, as soon as it comes out of the oven, try this:

While the cake is cooking, blend or puree together until smooth:

1 cup strawberries

2 Tablespoons sugar

½ cup strawberry nectar (or water)--if you need a little more, add it. You want this to be a little bit runny and thin enough to soak in well

While the cake is still hot, poke holes in the top of the cake with a fork or the handle of a wooden spoon

Pour your strawberry puree over the top and spread evenly

Let this sink in while the cake cools

Top with Cool Whip® and more strawberries and serve as above

Some people don't like the appearance of a cake that's had holes poked in it, so if you don't want to do this it's fine. Your strawberry puree will be absorbed just fine, and that little layer of red between the pink cake and white Cool Whip is both pretty and tasty.

Finally, what would summer be without Strawberry Shortcake? I'm not talking about those little round hockey pucks with the indentation in the middle you get from the grocery store, although they're certainly good enough for Opel. No, I'm talking a "yes, I made this, it was a pain but this is how much I love you" strawberry shortcake. Pull this off, and you'll be able to guilt your family for days and days. Once again, this recipe is from and uses buttermilk pound cake, whipped cream, and fresh strawberries in a delicious masterpiece that people will rave about.



The Cake:

3 sticks butter

3 cups sugar

5 large eggs

3 cups cake flour (NOT self-rising)

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

The Strawberries:

4 cups fresh, sliced strawberries

3 Tablespoons sugar

The Whipped Cream filling:

2 cups heavy whipping cream

½ cup confectioners sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Make the Cake:

Make sure all your cake ingredients are at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Grease and flour 3 8" round pans (and lining the bottoms with parchment paper helps them come out easier and prettier)

Mix together cake flour, baking powder and salt, set aside

Cream the butter until smooth

Gradually add the sugar to the creamed butter, stirring frequently, then beat until light and fluffy (about 3 to 5 minutes in your stand mixer)

Add the room-temperature eggs to the butter and sugar mixture one at a time, blending after each one

Add the vanilla extract to the buttermilk

With your mixer on low, alternate adding your dry (flour) and wet (buttermilk) ingredients to the butter and sugar, blending constantly. recommends starting with dry and doing a dry/wet/dry/wet/dry 3:2 step process for this, and it seems to work well)

Evenly divide the batter between the three pans and bake until done (when the toothpick is dry and they're mildly springy to touch), about 20-25 minutes

Let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before turning out and finishing the cooling

Make the Strawberry Goodness:

In a lidded bowl, add the strawberries

Sprinkle with sugar and gently stir to mix

Cover and refrigerate until it's time to assemble the cake--make sure you this at least a couple of hours, for the sugar and juice to combine

Make the Whipped Cream:

Chill everything--cream, bowl, beaters, sugar (okay, not the sugar unless you really want to)

Mix cream, sugar, and vanilla extract and mix on low until blended, then increase to medium-high until soft peaks form.

Pay attention, because the soft peak stage happens quickly, and you don't want to overbeat your whipping cream for this cake

Assembling the Cake:

Do NOT start this until the 3 layers of cake have completely cooled! You have been warned!

Start with the first (bottom) layer of cake on your serving pedestal.

Send someone to the store to buy a nice cake pedestal while the cakes are cooling if you don't already have one. Allow time for them to go, buy something horrible, and come back 3 times before you just go and get it yourself.

Put the first cake on the pedestal.

Poke holes in the cake with a fork or wooden spoon and cover with about ¼ of your strawberry mix

The holes allow the juice to seep into the cake--yum!

Top the strawberries with about ⅓ of your whipped cream

Place the second layer of cake

Poke, strawberries, whipped cream as before.

Place the third layer of cake on top

Poke, strawberries, and whipped cream as before, taking care to make the top as pretty as you can (the other two layers have just been squashed down and will only be seen when the cake's cut, but this is what you want people to see)

Use the last of your whipped cream to make a little mound in the center of the cake and put the fattest, reddest strawberry you can on top

Properly done, this thing is a show-stopper and can serve as the centerpiece for any dessert bar anywhere. And if it doesn't look quite right? Chop it up, put it in a trifle bowl, and serve it as the Strawberry Shortcake Dump Cake you intended to make from the start. Make that your story and smile as you stick to it!

You can also put it together in a trifle bowl to start with if you'd like. It won't be as pretty coming out, but it'll look good in the bowl and taste just as good.

If you're feeling a bit adventurous, you might want to browse MyCakeSchool's strawberry cake section. Their strawberry lemonade cake kept calling my name while I was writing this, but I haven't gotten around to trying it yet. Soon, though.

There you have it! Four spectacular strawberry recipes for the best taste of Spring ever!


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