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Enhance 'meh' strawberries for many uses

Recipe: Roasting the fruit concentrates flavors

Piled on a round of cake, roasted strawberries make an easy dessert. Add whipped cream or ice cream to dress them up even more.

Piled on a round of cake, roasted strawberries make an easy dessert. Add whipped cream or ice cream to dress them up even more.

Kathy Morrison

These berries are 'just OK' but will be roasted.

Our local strawberries tend to reach their peak in May or June. Until then, I’m often lured to buy spring’s signature fruit – blushing red and glistening – even though I know the berries might not be the best for eating plain. (Standing over the sink to eat a juicy ripe berry is the ideal way, I believe.)

Several quick fixes exist for imperfect berries: A douse of balsamic vinegar is one, a whirr in the blender with some yogurt is another.

I’d heard of roasting strawberries but had never tried it until recently. It’s a good back-pocket kind of recipe because it’s endlessly adaptable yet requires only a few ingredients.

Roasting with a little bit of sweetener and some subtle flavoring concentrates the flavors of the fruit and yields, as a side benefit, a spectacular syrup. The strawberries and syrup can top ice cream or cheese cake, and they turn those ubiquitous dessert rounds from the grocery store into a fine dessert. (The cake soaks up the syrup beautifully.) For breakfast the berries also could be served as a compote, or top pancakes or French toast; they also would be an excellent addition to yogurt. Or try the syrup alone in a refreshing spring cocktail.

The recipe below is the basic procedure; feel free to play with it to your specific taste. It’s easily doubled.

Berries ready to roast.

Note: As I researched this method, there seemed to be no consensus on what temperature to roast the berries at. Some recipes said 350 degrees F, one was at 250 (for several hours!), and a few advised 400 degrees, which is closer to what I’d consider a roasting temperature. I settled on 375 degrees because I didn’t want the berries to dry out. But I might well try a higher temperature next time, to concentrate the sugars even more, though that would require more stirring so the berries don’t burn. 

Roasted strawberries

Serves 2 as a fruit dish or 4 as part of a dessert


1 pound fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
1 to 2 tablespoons sweetener, such as: granulated sugar, vanilla sugar*, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave sweetener, rice syrup, or any other preferred sweetener
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or a vanilla bean sliced and cut into chunks
Herbs (optional) such as 4 sprigs thyme, a handful of basil leaves sliced chiffonade, or some lemon verbena leaves
Optional stir-in after roasting: ½ tablespoon lemon or orange juice, or 1 teaspoon fruit liqueur, or 1 additional teaspoon vanilla extract


And here they are, out of the oven.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Halve the hulled strawberries vertically and place them in one layer in a large non-reactive baking dish.  (Quarter the larger ones if necessary.) Sprinkle the sweetener and the vanilla extract or bean pieces over the berries, then add the herbs (if using), and stir the whole thing together gently.

Roast 25-30 minutes, stirring the mixture at least once. Remove pan from the oven and allow berries to cool to almost room temperature. (They will get a bit jammier as they cool.) Taste the syrup and stir in any additional flavoring if desired. Use immediately or refrigerate in a covered container until ready to use.

* Make your own vanilla sugar by adding a vanilla bean -- even a used one -- to a small closed container of granulated sugar, such as a pint Mason jar. Shake and store.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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