Friday, June 17, 2011

Berried Treasures: Balsamic Marinated Strawberries

This weekend is the 80th annual Marysville strawberry festival. Back in 1931 strawberry growers around Marysville got together in town to celebrate their crops. Now the annual fest attracts more than 100,000 people each year!

Marysville was actually the strawberry capital of the world at the turn of the 20th century. The 1920s were boom times for growers, but then in 1955 a freeze wiped out the crops and so many farmers quit farming. California edged in and stole the leading strawberry producer slot, and since the 1960, strawberry crops have been intensely grown there.

Sure they have lots of strawberries and maybe they are cheaper, but who needs California berries in the Northwest?

I want to check out this festival and I hope you put it on your list, too. A small town parade, carnival rides and games, a talent show and adult tricycle races. This I've got to see. And what else? A strawberry shortcake eating contest, of course!

These are berries from Dennison Farms at the Corvallis farmers' market. Check out all those empty boxes behind the table. I love this farm's produce!

I wrote about berries in this month's Take 5 column for Marlene's Market and Deli--five health benefits of berries. I did a lot of research and I was amazed to learn how many benefits berries offered. I thought I'd share them with you.

The Health Benefits of Berries

1. Fight cancer

Studies have shown that the ellagic acid in raspberries, strawberries and cranberries slows the proliferation of breast, prostate and colon cancer cells.

2. Enhance Memory

Certain compounds in berries offer memory insurance by stimulating brain pathways responsible for long-term memory. Finn never forgets where you put that bowl of berries.

3. Reduce Inflammation

Anthocyanins (the blue and red pigments in berry and grape skins) function as antioxidants and help reduce inflammation. Another berry component, resveratrol, the same ingredient in red wine, strengthens the immune system.

4. Support cardiovascular system

Berries lower blood pressure according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010. One study followed 200,000 people for 14 year and found that those who ate the most blueberries and strawberries were less likely to ever have high blood pressure. Crazy huh?

5. Promote good vision

Who knew that during World War II British fighter pilots ate European bilberries (close relatives of huckleberries and wild blueberries) to boost night vision before flying night air raids? Leutin and vitamin C are two more vision enhancing nutrients in berries.

The only problem with getting the most benefits from berries is you have to eat lots of them. But that's not really a big problem is it? Chill out. Enjoy berry season because it never lasts long enough.

These Chester blackberries at Ayers Creek Farm were all gone 30 minutes after the market started last summer. This season, I'm going back for more.

Our own strawberries are usually eaten by the slugs before we get them, but we planted more this year so who knows maybe we'll actually get a pint or two. Our raspberries produce more every year and our blueberry bushes--well, they're are only three years old.

Chloe munching on grass while Finn works the camera. Neither one cares about the strawberry blossoms.

Finn totally refused to look at the flowers, but something else caught his eye and he posed in his own way. And to think, I used to wonder why people called basset hounds stubborn.

I found these berries at the Lake City market. Finn is certainly intrigued, he knows a good berry when he sees one. If you don't have balsamic vinegar, use raspberry wine. Around Seattle the stuff from R0ckridge Orchards is heavenly.

Try this recipe with coconut sorbet or serve them over shortcake!

Balsamic Marinated Strawberries
(Serves 4)
Use organic options, if possible, and the best balsamic vinegar you have. I prefer spearmint leaves but chocolate mint is pretty cool, too.

2 to 3 cups sliced fresh berries
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
A few mint leaves

Sprinkle sugar over berries.

Add balsamic vinegar and gently toss.

Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving. Garnish with mint leaves.

No photo shoot would be complete without my Assistant's help. (Or so he thinks.) He almost looks as if he's meditating. Have a sunny weekend!

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