Local strawberries in full bloom
Strawberries from the Johnson Farm in Hobart, IN (photo: Steve Dolinsky)
I've always been a "transitional season" kind of eater. As a child of the Midwest, I love the thawing of the snow and the emergence of ramps, morels and peas, as much as I do the first chill in the air, and the presence of butternut squash and sage on menus. Early June is one of my favorite times of the year, though, because it means strawberry season. Most people probably think it's a year round season, thanks to the horrible "strawberries" that are sold under the Driscoll label in local markets. Ever cut into one of these so-called strawberries? The outside may be ruby red, but look at how white the inside is. These are faux berries in my opinion. Cardboard cut-outs for the real thing. Hit any market over the next two weeks, and cut into one of the local beauties: soft, ripe and completely red, these are authentic, honest berries grown within 50 miles of Chicago.
This weekend, the Johnson Farm in nearby Hobart, Indiana is holding their annual Strawberry Festival. I went down to the farm recently to see how their first crop of berries was doing; they're delicious, as always. ‚ The Johnsons have been farming this land for three generations, and as intense as the harvest is now, they will put equally as much effort into the pumpkin season this Fall.
If you're jones-ing for pies, cakes, breads, muffins and other berry-fueled baked goods, this is the time to pounce. The season, afterall, is sadly only about three weeks long.
Scotch egg over sour cream waffle with strawberries at Jam (photo by Joseph Storch)
The day I was over at the Johnson Farm, I brought back a few pints of berries to the city, and gave them to Jeff Mauro, the Chef at Jam in Ukrainian Village. Up until recently, the‚ restaurant‚ was only open for breakfast and lunch, but‚ dinner service has begun, and now Mauro is absolutely stoked about the local strawberries being harvested. On the‚ savory side, Mauro might make a Scotch egg - cotechino sausage-wrapped‚ poached eggs, breaded and fried - gently placed onto a sour cream waffle, surrounded by a forest of frisee greens and sliced, fresh strawberries.
Strawberry "shortcakes" from Jam (photo by Joseph Storch)
At dessert, his pastry chef makes tiny buckwheat shortcakes, containing strawberry conserves, basil and rhubarb. These creations are both tasty, and yet fleeting, because you just know they'll be off the menu in about two weeks. Enjoy them while you can. You can check out my full story tonight, after 10:30 p.m. right here.