The older I get, the more impatient I seem to become. What happened to achieving the wisdom of not sweating the small stuff and letting whatever will be to be? Someone send me that memo again, please. Case in point: strawberry season didn’t come soon enough for me this year. While I was ecstatic to find Ontario greenhouse berries in the grocery store at the beginning of May, what I really wanted were those Niagara berries that compel me to drive across town to the farm stand that specializes in them. They usually show up mid-May, thanks to the farmers using plastic mulch to heat the soil and trick the plants into thinking it’s warmer than it really is so they’ll flower and fruit.But mid-May came and went with temperatures that demanded I still wear a sweater and a jacket, and they didn’t do the job needed to fool those berries into growing quickly. This week, I could stand it no longer. Get me some Niagara berries, already, I thought. I tweeted to my berry farmer friend for the scoop. Good news came back in a social media second — good thing, given my current issues with being able to chill. Berries are here, he replied. I picked up my daughter from day care half an hour later, and we were en route to the farm. We’re going to the berry farm, I told her excitedly as I buckled her in. The woman working the till remembered us from last summer. This is what happens when you make a habit of showing up several times a week for a berry fix. You see, my daughter is a berry fiend, her appetite ferocious for the heart-shaped fruit. And in turn, she put the peach at risk of being usurped from its plum position of my favourite fruit ever. Last year, thanks to the frequent trips prompted by her then simple request for “Bah-wees” I ate more strawberries than I ever have. I craved them like I used to long for those fuzzy peaches if I went too long between baskets. While I could at least wait until we paid for our quarts — and mostly flats — before I started eating them, this wasn’t so for my girl. There was a good dent in our haul before the cash register was even in sight. She gulped those berries, hulls and all. The juice would drip down her chin, and be caught by her previously clean t-shirt. Her bliss with every bite is what turned berry-buying into a ritual — our ritual. Seeing the pure joy that my child got from something so simple was sweeter to me than the berries themselves, and I’d be reminded it was time to return a few days later when dousing her stained clothes with Spray’n Wash before doing a load of laundry. So back we’d go. Our visits unfolded predictably: Pick up Olivia from day care, oblige her requests for Bah-wees, head to the farm stand, grab our berries, eat some berries, pay for our berries. Repeat. I warned the woman when I saw her Wednesday after so many months without contact: She’d be seeing a lot of us this summer. And I made a mental note to buy some stain remover next time I was the grocery store. It’s ritual season, after all.
Strawberry, rhubarb, ginger shrub
It's difficult for berries to survive long enough in my presence to be turned into anything rather than be eaten unadulterated. But if you have some berries that maybe got overlooked for a few days, or if you have the willpower to not down a quart as soon as you get your hands on it, this recipe is a simple one to make.
A shrub is a drinking vinegar made with macerated fruit and a vinegar of choice. It's sweet and tart, and with the addition of ginger to this one, it's got a bit of heat. And it's worth the wait. (It takes two days to make but the hands-on time is only 10-15 minutes.)
I used verjus for a more subtle sour taste. Verjus is made with unripened grapes culled during veraison, that point in the growing season where wine grapes start to change colour and ripen. Those that don't show signs of ripening get cut from the vine and the enterprising grape grower presses the rejects for this wonderful vinegar substitute that can also be used in salad dressing. Bonus: it will never clash with your wine like other vinegars.
- 1/2 cup strawberries, hulled and quartered
- 1/2 cup rhubarb finely diced
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup verjus or champagne vinegar
- 1 ince piece of ginger, grated
- Sparkling water or champagne
Combine fruit, sugar and ginger in a bowl, stirring until well-combined and fruit is coated in sugar.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap or cheese cloth. After a few hours, you'll see the juices being extracted from the fruit. Leave the covered bowl on your kitchen counter overnight.
Put bowl in the fridge and leave overnight.
Strain macerated fruit and juices into a measuring cup and pour juice into a 500 mL mason jar. Add verjus. Cover and leave in fridge until ready to use.
Shrub will keep for up to 10 days if using verjus; up to a month if using vinegar.
Add one to two shots of shrub to an ice-filled glass and top up with sparkling water. Add a shot of your favourite vodka, or use champagne instead of sparkling water for a more adult version.
I get my verjus from the Niagara Local Food Co-op but Featherstone Estate Winery in Vineland also makes and sells it.
If you don't have verjus, champagne vinegar makes a great substitute for this recipe.