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Ripe Strawberries, Ripe! (yummy dessert and liqueur recipe)

My kids are currently addicted to the movie “Oliver,” which my mom gave them the DVD of last month. They watched the whole movie once, but since then they just skip around from good song to good song. (And in Oliver, there are a lot of good songs.) Any other theater nerd who read the title to this blog entry probably already has the strawberry-seller’s part from “Who will buy?” in Act II going through their head.  I don’t apologize; it’s lovely, and when I was in high school I wanted to be the strawberry-seller.

But that’s not the point of the post, obviously…the point of the post is that we are in that time of year when strawberries, even organic ones (the only ones I buy–I thought I was allergic to strawberries until I started eating organic ones and had no problem, and then one day bought conventional and had inflamed bumpy lips after one bite.) are delicious and flavorful and cheap. So we tend to buy 2-3 lbs. at a time, and rarely do they sit in the fridge long enough to begin to go bad.

If they do–they get cut up and quickly frozen on a cookie sheet, for later use in smoothies, jam, pie, or whatever. It’s a no-lose situation if you remember that you can always freeze them.

But in the meantime, we’ve got two lovely things we do with them, and I wanted to share those. The first is a lightened-up (i.e. more fruit, less everything else) version of my favorite summer dessert that my mom used to make when we were kids

Strawberry “Pavlova” Dessert:

Rinse, stem, and cut up 3-4 oz. ripe fresh berries per person. (Our 4 family members easily go through a pound in a sitting. We’re gluttons, what can I say?) Pull off the green collars, and cut out the stem parts, but save any berry-like bits you cut off. More later on this.

Crush 1/2-1 vanilla meringue cookie per person into smallish bits (but not powder).

Make whipped cream, or be lazy and evil and use the canned stuff that says “made from real cream.” But the good stuff is so much better.

To serve:

Easy way: Put 1 serving berries into each bowl, sprinkle with crushed meringues, and dollop with whipped cream

Classier for-company way: In a parfait glass, layer 1/2 serving berries, 1/2 serving meringue bits, and dollop whipped cream; then repeat. Garnish with 1 small berry.

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This is seriously good, and really easy to do, and tastes amazingly decadent considering it’s only 3 simple ingredients. You could probably lighten it up a bit more even by substituting vanilla greek yogurt for the whipped cream.

And now…remember how I told you to save any cut-off berry-bits from the de-stemming process?

Fresh Strawberry Liqueur

This is a time-consuming process; it will take a couple of months at least to complete. On the other hand, it takes almost no active working time, so it’s painfully simple for something so good.

Prep: On your kitchen counter, at the beginning of strawberry season, place a clean mason jar. Fill it about halfway with 80-proof vodka, or a half and half solution of Everclear and distilled water. (If you will eat a lot of strawberries, use a quart jar. If you’re doing this for your first time, maybe start witha pint.)

Over strawberry season: Each time you stem and cut up strawberries, save the bits you cut off the hulls, that little bit where you can’t avoid cutting off some fruit. Drop them into the jar-o-booze. (Take off the green leafy collars, but the little stems themselves are no problem; whatever comes off the berries, drop it in the jar.)

When the jar is basically full: once your jar is full enough that the berries are no longer under the surface of the vodka, stop adding. (Or add a little more vodka.) The point is to keep the berries submerged. Shake the jar every couple of days or so. If you were inclined to drop half a vanilla bean in there, it would probably be amazing, though I’ve never tried it.

Alternatively–after a couple of weeks, you could drain the older strawberries out, making room for new–until your solution smells delicious and strawberry-y!

When to drain: Up to a 2 months after starting, or at least two weeks after adding the last berry-bits, strain through cheesecloth or clean muslin or even a coffee filter. Dispose of fruit; save boozy liquid. Call it “Strawberry Vodka” and stop here, if you want. It’s probably delicious as it is. But if you want to go the extra step…

To make the liqueur: If you have 2 cups of strawberry vodka, make a simple syrup out of 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water by heating them together until the sugar melts. (This is supposed to give you 2 cups solution, one of those cool paradoxical things, but I always have some extra.)  Let cool. In a large jar mix equal parts sugar syrup and strawberry vodka. Decant into bottles, label with contents and date you poured, and let mellow in a cool dark place for at least 2-3 months.

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This stuff is seriously good.  And don’t feel like you have to be limited to strawberries either–toss a few raspberries or cherries in there if they are on the verge of turning–pretty much anything except bananas would probably be great.

Let me know if you try this, and how it turns out!

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