Very Berry. California is king in the production of strawberries

HAPPINESS is a warm dessert - especially when the warm dessert is made with berries and topped with clouds of sweet whipped cream or smooth, tangy sour cream, or a generous spoonful of rich ice cream. Blueberry cobbler, blackberry pie, or gooseberry fool - they're all old-fashioned summer favorites, but it's strawberries that really kick off the berry season in most parts of the United States.

And that's only the beginning. The luscious red fruit is then followed by raspberries, boysenberries, and all the other berries found in various parts of the country.

There is a sequence, of course. Strawberries, like asparagus, are sent to Northern markets from California, Mexico, and Chile in February. Not until mid-June will the first, sweet native berries ripen up in the fields of the northern US. Then the pick-your-own farms are in full swing everywhere.

But Americans love strawberries at any time of year, and fresh California strawberries are available from February through November, almost year round.

Total California strawberry production this season is estimated at 800 million pounds, according to Gary Jertberg, a strawberry grower of Watsonville, Calif., in Boston to talk to the press, and August Schumacher Jr., commissioner of the Massachusetts State Department of Food and Agriculture.

``That's about 72 percent of the nation's total supply of strawberries,'' says Bill Ito of Westminster, Calif., also a strawberry grower.

``Although strawberries are grown in almost all parts of California, the major growing area of the state is from Sacramento to San Diego,'' Mr. Ito notes.

``The state shipped 48.5 million trays of fresh strawberries and packed 250 million pounds of frozen strawberries last year.''

Commissioner Schumacher explained the visit of California growers to Boston: ``We're promoting our Massachusetts dairy products with the fresh California strawberries because we think there's nothing better with fresh berries than dairy products - cottage cheese, sour cream, yogurt, and especially cream and ice cream.

``Some of the nation's largest ice cream manufacturers started in Massachusetts, and there are dozens of smaller companies and shops across the state producing it.''

Here are two delicious strawberry recipes you might like to try: Andr'e's Strawberry Soup 2 pints strawberries, washed, hulled 1/2 cup sugar-water syrup, equal parts Fresh mint leaves 1/4 ripe melon-cantaloupe 1/4 cup lemon juice 1/4 cup lime juice Maple syrup to taste Cr`eme fra^iche, garnish

Make syrup by boiling together sugar and water until sugar dissolves. Add fresh mint leaves to syrup and cool. Combine remaining ingredients with syrup and pur'ee or put through food processor, then strain.

Chill well before serving garnished with cr`eme fra^iche and mint leaves. Serves 4. Strawberry Charlotte 1 cup cr`eme Anglaise (see recipe) 1 cup fresh strawberries, pur'eed 5 or 6 sheets of gelatin or 2 ounces 11 ounces cr`eme Chantilly

Soften gelatin in cold water. Mix with warm cr`eme Anglaise and strawberry pur'ee. Blend well and refrigerate until it begins to set. Add cr`eme Chantilly, and mix gently. Refrigerate. Line a Charlotte mold with ladyfingers and fill with Charlotte mixture and refrigerate until firm. Serve with either a cr`eme Anglaise or strawberry pur'ee, or both. Cr`eme Anglaise 2 cups milk 6 egg yolks 1 cup vanilla sugar

Blend ingredients. Stir over low heat until mixture starts to thicken. Strain.

Ladyfingers 6 egg yolks 5 ounces egg whites 2 ounces flour 2 ounces corn starch 3 ounces sugar

Blend egg yolks and sugar; add flour, corn starch. Beat egg whites, fold in.

With pastry bag make four 4-inch lengths on baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake 12 minutes at 350 degrees F.

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