AT one time, the strawberry went steady with shortcake, but today that popular summer berry has new companions. It pairs up beautifully with chicken, pasta, shrimp -- even vinegar. In a recent survey, the former favorite, shortcake, had slipped to third place. Most people, it seems, now prefer their strawberries sliced with a touch of sweetening.
The second most popular way is whole or sliced and eaten as a snack, according to the findings of the California Strawberry Advisory Board.
If you're wondering about the combination that's famous in England, strawberries and cream -- it came in fourth, a reflection, perhaps, of the current trend of ``eating light.''
In the United States, there are some interesting differences in how strawberries are used in various regions. The West uses more berries on pancakes than any other area. Southerners are not enthusiastic about strawberries in salads and pies, while people in the Northeast don't use their strawberries much in puddings and gelatins.
The Midwest is heavy on making strawberry preserves and jam, but so are people all over when they can go to a local farmer's field and pick their own. Strawberries freeze well, too, and this is another answer when there are too many berries at once.
When choosing strawberries at the market, buy the reddest, brightest ones you can find, since they do not ripen after picking. Check the whole box when possible. Remember, packers tend to put the largest, best-looking berries on top.
If you buy some that are only partially red, cut off the greenish-white areas. Gently rinse berries in a colander, taking care not to remove caps until after washing.
With strawberries available most of the year, people are more adventurous in using them.
For example, they're being used in fruit vinegar for salad dressings. Although commercial fruit vinegars are expensive, you can make your own delicious batch at home with fresh fruit and ordinary vinegar.
Simply marinate the strawberries in vinegar overnight, then crush and strain to extract the essence of strawberry flavor.
Mix the fruit vinegar with oil and seasonings and you've created a refreshing, flavorful vinaigrette perfect for cold pasta, rice, chicken, or fruit salads. Any leftover vinegar can be stored up to a month in the refrigerator.
For a refreshing cooler, try blending crushed fresh berries with lemonade. Or serve plump, juicy strawberries dipped in brown sugar, sour cream, yogurt, or chocolate.
Sara Pitzer, author of several cookbooks, has discovered that strawberries go beautifully with seafood -- especially shrimp and salmon.
Another of her rather unusual combinations has strawberries, cabbage, and chicken salad with a chiffon dressing.
``My Grandmother Pennington used to make a special slaw at holiday time that was so delicate and good my father called it Ice Cream Cabbage,'' she says.
``And at a restaurant where I once worked, they made a special chicken salad with shredded cabbage that was so popular it was sold out before lunch was over.''
Sara combined the two recipes and added strawberries for color and texture contrast. The following recipes come from her book ``Simply Strawberries'' (Garden Way Publishers, $6.95): Strawberry-Chicken Salad 1/2 medium head of cabbage, finely shredded 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 cups cooked, diced chicken, preferably white meat 1/2 pint whipping cream 3 tablespoons sugar, according to taste 2 tablespoons vinegar, according to taste 2 cups fresh sliced strawberries Romaine lettuce
In a large mixing bowl sprinkle cabbage with salt and mix thoroughly. Mix in chicken.
Make dressing by whipping the cream until it holds soft round peaks, then beat in the sugar and vinegar to taste.
With a fork stir, dressing into cabbage-chicken mixture a little at a time. Quickly stir in sliced strawberries. Serve at once on lettuce leaves.
Sara Pitzer suggests serving strawberry-nut bread plain in thin slices to accompany a salad, or spread with strawberry cream cheese for sandwiches. To make spread, combine 8-ounce package of cream cheese with a cup of sliced strawberries or 2/3 cup strawberry pur'ee. Strawberry-Nut Bread 3 cups all-purpose, unbleached white flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 3 teaspoons cinnamon 2 cups sugar 2 cups sliced fresh strawberries 4 eggs 1 1/4 cups oil 1 cup chopped nuts
Sift dry ingredients together into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in center. In another bowl, beat together strawberries, eggs, and oil. Pour into well. Stir just enough to dampen all ingredients. Quickly stir in nuts.
Pour into 2 or 3 well-greased bread pans, filling no more than half full. Bake in preheated 350-degree F. oven 45 to 60 minutes or until baked through and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
Cool 20 to 30 minutes before removing from pans. Finish cooling on a rack. Do not slice until bread is completely cold. Yield: 2 large or 3 small loaves.
Today's young cooks are adventurous in combinations of most everything. Although strawberry pink pasta may sound odd to traditionalists, it is a pretty dish and a pleasant combination of tastes made with sour cream, yogurt, honey, and nuts. Strawberry Pink Pasta 1 package (8 ounces) medium egg noodles 2 pint baskets fresh strawberries, stemmed and sliced 3 tablespoons honey 2 teaspoons lemon juice 1/2 cup sour cream 1/2 cup unflavored yogurt 1/4 cup chopped nuts
Cook noodles as package directs. Rinse with warm water; drain thoroughly. Cool to room temperature. In container of electric blender combine 1 cup of strawberries, honey, and lemon juice. Blend until smooth.
In bowl whisk together sour cream and yogurt. Gradually stir in strawberry mixture to blend thoroughly. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the cream mixture over noodles; toss gently to coat.
With two forks, mound noodle mixture, equally divided, onto individual serving plates.
Top with remaining strawberries, equally divided. Drizzle each serving with some of remaining cream mixture and sprinkle with nuts.
Makes 8 servings. Strawberry Lemondrift Pie 2 pint baskets fresh strawberries 1/2 cup milk 1 envelope unflavored gelatin 2/3 cup sugar 1 1/2 tablespoons grated fresh lemon peel 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 2 cups whipping cream 1 baked and cooled 9-inch pie shell Powdered sugar
Stem strawberries; cover and chill. In 1-quart saucepan combine milk and gelatin; set aside 5 minutes.
Stir in sugar. Stir over low heat until gelatin and sugar are completely dissolved. Stir in peel and juice. Cool to room temperature, then chill until syrupy, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in large bowl whip cream to form stiff peaks. Fold in gelatin mixture to blend thoroughly.
Spoon into pie shell. Cover filling with strawberries. Chill until firm at least 2 hours. Dust lightly with powdered sugar just before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings. Strawberry Breakfast Drink 1 egg 3/4 cup milk 1 tablespoon nonfat milk powder 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast 1 teasspoon vanilla extract 1/2 cup whole fresh or frozen strawberries Sugar to taste Nutmeg to taste Strawberries for garnish
Blend all ingredients but nutmeg until thick and frothy. Pour into a tall chilled glass and garnish with nutmeg and a strawberry. Makes 1 tall drink. Chocolate Strawberry Scone Cake 2 1/2 cups flour 1/4 cup sugar 4 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 2/3 cup butter or margarine, at room temperature 2/3 cup milk 2 eggs 1 package (6 ounces) chocolate pieces 1 cup whipping cream 2 baskets fresh strawberries, washed, stemmed, and sliced
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Combine milk, 1 whole egg, and one egg yolk; mix into dry ingredients just until moistened. Turn out onto lightly floured board; knead lightly several times, then bring dough together to form a ball. Divide in half.
Pat each half to a circle 8 inches in diameter. Place one circle on greased baking sheet; cover evenly with chocolate.
Top with remaining circle, pressing lightly to seal edges. Brush top with remaining egg white, beaten; sprinkle generously with additional sugar. With sharp knife slice half way through top layer to form 6 wedges.
Bake in 425 degrees F. oven 18 to 20 minutes, until golden. Transfer to rack to cool slightly.
Whip cream; add 1 cup of berries. Sweeten to taste. Serve wedges of warm scone cake with remaining berries and strawberry whipped cream.
Makes 6 servings.
Phyllis Hanes is the Monitor's food editor.