How to grow and prepare strawberries

A chef and a gardener team up to tell how to grow strawberries and then turn them into a delicious dessert.

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Chef Linda and I (Anne) spoke about strawberries to the Beech Island Garden Club in North Augusta, S.C., a few weeks ago. We had the most marvelous time talking about gardening and cooking.

After our talk, Joy Raintree, a garden club member and manager of Redcliffe Plantation for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation, & Tourism treated us to a private plantation tour. Master Gardeners have installed a vegetable garden on the plantation grounds. Maybe there's a strawberry patch in their future?

Traditional strawberry patches are not the only way to grow. You can use strawberries as ground cover or in a flower border. Just make sure you can reach those succulent ripe berries. Remember, too, when strawberries mingle with flowers, you can use only pesticides safe for food on the flower border.

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Strawberries love sandy soil. If, like me, you have thick clay as your soil base, raise the beds so the strawberry roots will have drainage.

Your strawberry choices depend on your seasonal temperatures and whether you want a large crop all at once (called spring or June-bearing) or smaller pickings throughout the spring, summer, and fall (known as everbearing and day-neutral).

How to plant strawberries

The best time to plant strawberries is in early spring on a cloudy, cool day. Before planting, trim the roots to four or five inches in length. Also, cut off old leaves, runners, and flowers.

Dig the planting holes one foot apart, in rows three feet apart and wide enough so that you can spread out the roots. Day-neutral plants can go in closer since they produce fewer runners. After you fill in the soil, water the plants to get rid of any air pockets.

Strawberry plants are finicky about planting depth. If you buy them potted, just slip them out of the pot and plant them at the same depth at which they were growing. Bare-root plants can be tricky. Cover the roots up to the crown, leaving the top of the crown aboveground. (The crown of the plant is the fleshy part where the leaves and stems meet the roots.)

If you grow strawberries in your backyard, you must be patient to ensure a good crop in your second year and for years afterward.

Challenging as it is, remove the flowers precocious enough to grow that first spring. This ensures strong plants that will give you ongoing bountiful crops. If you're growing everbearing or day-neutral varieties, you can allow a crop to develop in the fall.

Soon enough, you will have plenty of homegrown strawberries for Chef Linda’s recipe.

A versatile dessert

A few weeks ago, I (Linda) had the pleasure of doing a presentation on preparing Strawberries Romanoff for the Beech Island, S.C., Garden Club. I enjoyed every minute of being with these wonderful, charming women and making one of the recipes that is near and dear to my heart.

Strawberries always remind me of the coming spring. I know, I know, they show up in the cold winter, too, but spring is on my mind when I make a sponge cake and have fresh strawberries and cream, or when I make this recipe that my mother used quite often for Strawberries Romanoff.

Strawberries Romanoff is one of those very versatile, simple recipes. It becomes another dessert if you layer it with almond macaroons. Just make the recipe, put in a spoon of the strawberries in a pretty glass or crystal bowl, crumble on almond macaroons, layer in little whipped cream, and then strawberries again, and finish with a spoon of cream and sprinkle of almonds. You can layer it as high as you like.

Strawberries Romanoff

Base:
4 cups sliced or halved strawberries
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons almond extract in ½ cup water

Place the strawberries in a bowl and add the sugar and flavoring. Mix well. Chill for two to three hours in the refrigerator before dividing into eight (1/2 cup) dessert dishes.

Topping:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted

Beat the heavy cream with sugar and almond extract until cream is lightly whipped.

To serve, top the berries with a spoon of whipped cream. Sprinkle toasted almonds on top of each serving. Serves 8.

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Linda Weiss and Anne Moore, who will be blogging at Diggin' It about food and gardening, met while Linda was the food editor and Anne was the garden editor for South Carolina Homes & Gardens magazine. They now write articles for the ETV GardenSMART television show website, where Anne is the horticulture editor, gardening consultant, and e-newsletter editor. Anne has written for magazines and newspapers. She is a member of and a recipient of a Silver Award for magazine writing from the Garden Writers Association. Linda is a personal chef. She attended Le Cordon Bleu of Paris’ catering program, has appeared as a guest chef on numerous television shows, has been a culinary educator for 10 years, and a food writer for a number of magazines. She is a professional member of The James Beard Foundation and the Southern Foodways Alliance. She has written a cookbook, "Memories From Home, Cooking with Family and Friends." Their first article at Diggin' It was How to grow and prepare asparagus.

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