Berry, berry good recipes for Western Pa. strawberries

Strawberries have been available in spades for a while now in local grocery stores  -- maybe they’ve even been on sale, tempting you to throw together a shortcake or try your hand at jam. But there’s a big difference between those unnaturally large, often white-shouldered orbs from California and just-picked berries from your own garden or a local farm.

As sweet and pretty as they are intoxicatingly fragrant -- they just smell like everything that’s good about upcoming summer -- local strawberries have no equal when it comes to fresh, hand-to-mouth fruit. How else to explain why so many churches, farm markets and community groups hold strawberry festivals in June? 

This weekend, for example, both the tiny community of Avalon in the North Hills and Mercer County’s Grove City are feting summer’s favorite fruit with food, games, crafters and vendors. On June 13, there will be all-day festivals with kids’ activities and special strawberry menus (along with the opportunity to pick your own berries) at Soergel Orchards in Franklin Park and Trax Farms in Finleyville, Washington County (where the fun continues on June 14).

Triple B Farms in Forward takes its many strawberry patches even more seriously, with three weekends of festival fun (June 6-7, 13-14 and 20-21) that includes hayrides, giant slides, face painting and a rope maze  ($6 per person, under age 2 free). The farm’s largest fest is on June 13 and 14, when there also are wine tastings, belly dancing and circus performances. 

Every Saturday, “We’re also having a pancake breakfast with strawberry pancakes,” says owner Carolyn Beinlich. And don’t forget the homemade pies and strawberry fudge. 

Despite Pittsburgh’s bitterly cold winter, it’s shaping up to be a pretty good year for strawberries, whether you’re looking to pick them yourself or let someone else fill a few quart boxes with nature’s candy for you.  “We had such a warm spring, it compensated for the cold winter,” says Megan Simmons of Simmons Farm in McMurray, where this season u-pick berries will run $2.59 a pound. They’re selling boxed berries for $6 a quart at the Market Square and other farmers markets, though you have to be an early bird to snag them. This past Thursday, the farm had sold out its entire stock by 1 p.m.  

Strawberry season is relatively short --- just four or five weeks at most, less if the weather gets too hot or too wet. So when you see them at a market or farm stand, buy them. You always can freeze what you don’t immediately use, or turn the excess into something sweet to spread on toast or biscuits. We offer an excellent recipe for a strawberry turkey sandwich below, along with tasty, and unexpected, recipes for strawberry barbecue sauce and relish.

One final word of advice: It’s best to call ahead before planning a u-pick outing. You never know when the weather’s going to cooperate with the delicate berries, or hordes of us strawberry-lovers will pick a field clean. 

Gretchen McKay:, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

Strawberry-Turkey-Brie Panini

PG tested

Strawberries don’t often make a guest appearance in sandwiches, but when the berries are paired with turkey and brie, it just works. I used homemade jalapeno jelly. 

8-ounce round of brie

8 Italian bread slices

8 ounces thinly sliced smoked turkey

8 fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup sliced fresh strawberries

2 tablespoons pepper jelly

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Trim and discard rind from brie. Cut brie into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Layer 4 bread slices evenly with smoked turkey, basil leaves, strawberries and brie.

Spread pepper jelly on 1 side of each remaining bread slice. Place bread slices, jelly sides down, on top of brie. Brush sandwiches with melted butter. 

Cook sandwiches, in batches, in a preheated panini press 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown. If you don’t have a panini press, heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Cook your sandwiches for a couple minutes on each side, while pressing down on top with a lid or another pan. 

Makes 4 sandwiches.

-- “Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ” with Pitmaster Christopher Prieto (Oxmoor House, April 2015, $24.95)

Strawberry Relish

PG tested

Crunchy and tangy-sweet, this fruit relish is a perfect accompaniment for grilled meats and fish. I served it with grilled chicken breast. Yum.

1 cup strawberries, diced

1/2 medium shallot, finely diced

1/3 cup smoked almonds, roughly chopped

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon chopped Italian parsley

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh chives

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Serve with grilled fish or chicken.



Independence Day Pizza

PG tested

This is a perfect summer dessert, and patriotic, too, with a red, white and blue color scheme. It’s super sweet, especially if your daughter goes heavy on the whipped cream, as mine did. 

If you don’t feel like making pizza dough from scratch, Trader Joe’s sells a pretty good pre-made dough in its refrigerated section. Or, stop by your local pizza joint. 

12 medium strawberries, hulled and cut in half lengthwise

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 tablespoon orange liqueur such as Triple Sec or Cointreau

Vegetable oil

5 ounces oiled Pizza Dough (recipe follows)

1/3 cup blueberry preserves

Good-quality canned whipped cream (I used homemade)

Place strawberries, sugar and orange liqueur in bowl and stir to incorporate. Let sit 30 minutes.

Preheat grill to high.

Lightly grease metal work surface (such as the back of a cookie sheet) and palms of your hands. Place dough ball in center of surface and press down evenly with your hand. Working with both hands, start in middle and spread dough out with palms while stretching the outer edges with your finger. You want a 12-by-8-inch rectangle.

Brush grill grate with oil. Place one dough round on grate on hotter side of grill and cook until lightly charred and no longer sticking, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, turn dough over and move to indirect zone of grill.

When you turn over the pizza to indirect side of grill, spread blueberry preserves all over with the back of a spoon. Place strawberries all around the pizza in a checkerboard-type pattern. Move pizza to direct side of grill and rotate every 15 to 30 seconds until bottom is crispy. Remove pizza from grill and spray whipped cream in little dots all over the pizza (like stars), slice and serve.

Makes 1 pizza.

-- “Grilled Pizza the Right Way” by John Delpha (Page Street, April 2015, $19.99)

Pizza Dough

2¼ cups warm water

4 teaspoons yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

5 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup semolina

1 tablespoon salt

Place water, yeast and sugar in bowl of stand mixer. Let sit for 5 minutes until yeast is activated (bubbly). Add oil, then dry ingredients. Place dough hook on mixer and turn to medium low. Mix for approximately 5 minutes until a smooth ball appears. Turn mixer to medium high and knead for approximately 2 minutes more until ball obtains a light shine. Dough can be put in bag and refrigerated for use within the next 3 days or frozen for up to a month.

Yields enough for 2 large pizzas.

Strawberry BBQ Sauce

PG tested

Strawberries bring a sweet and fresh take to traditional barbecue sauce. This easy recipe is terrific on pork or chicken, “and it also makes a great sauce to serve with corn bread.”

4 cups strawberries, chopped, divided

1/2 cup chili sauce

1/4 cup apple-cider vinegar

3 cloves garlic, minced

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine half of the strawberries, the chili sauce, vinegar, and garlic. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes to thicken. Add the remaining strawberries and cook just until heated through.



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