Strawberries from the Plougastel farmers market
According to the wildly popular wikipedia (which had an interesting article in yesterdays Wall Street Journal), the strawberry is “an accessory fruit; that is, the fleshy part is derived not from the ovaries (which are the “seeds”, actually achenes) but from the peg at the bottom of the hypanthium that held the ovaries.” Who knew? And certainly more than I needed to know to make a humble strawberry tarte. But I digress…
As I mentioned last week in my Ode to a Sea Bass, I spent a few months cooking on a lobster boat turned restaurant in Brittany. The town of Brest is a military port that was completely leveled in WW2 and immediately rebuilt so everything is gray and square and built with gray square cinder blocks so we were always on the search for the quintessential Breton fishing village or equally charming outpost.
Plougastel-Daoulas information center
With one week left in my stay before moving to Paris, I hopped the town bus to Plougastel-Daoulas, the strawberry capital of Brittany, and France for that matter. We whizzed by Ma Petite Folie (the lobster boat), La Plage du Moulin-Blanc (the beach of the white windmill – though no windmill to be found), crossed the Pont d’Iroise to the Presqu’ile Plougastel (the Plougastel peninsula) which is known to be one of the most scenic in France with spectacular views. This tiny peninsula is dotted with churches and… strawberry fields.
Saint Peter’s Church in the town center of Plougastel
Strawberries are not native to Brittany but were introduced to France in 1714 by a naval officer, Amedee-Francois Frezier, on a return trip from Chile to his home port of Brest. He brought with him a few small berry plants called “Blanche du Chili” (white of chile) that produced small white berries that he hoped to grow in France. Farmers in Plougastel began cultivating them in 1740 and over a few centuries of harvesting and splicing, became the modern day red strawberry.
Musee des Fraises
A quick 20, 30 minute buss ride and I was in the heart of strawberry-ville. I visited the Musee des Fraises (strawberry museum), and purchased a 4 euro (a little more than $5) box of strawberries, strawberry confiture, strawberry postcards and a strawberry t-shirt. I know, huge tourist. I tiptoed into Saint Peter’s Church, lit a candle and sat in a pew to say a few prayers. I promptly fell asleep, woke up an hour later, and had to run catch the bus. Story of my life…
The strawberries are past there peak but there were some precious ones at what’s left of my farmers market today. For over $6 a basket, they’d better be precious and darn good. I made a strawberry tarte which is still in the oven as I type so I will post a pic as soon as it is done however I used the same recipe from my Precocious Apricot Pie recipe only I didn’t soak the strawberries in a liqueur before baking. Why? No reason, just wasn’t in the mood. I used four barquettes (baskets) of Cirafine Strawberries which is the French strawberry equivalent of an heirloom tomato.
And when the life hands you strawberries, make…
3 baskets strawberries
simple syrup (1/4 c water, 1/4 c sugar), use to your taste
1. hull and quarter strawberries
2. puree in a blender or cuisinart
3. add simple syrup to your taste and depending on how sweet the berries are
4. strain through a fine mesh sieve witha metal spoon (never wood!)
5. pour into a container
6. put ice cubes in a martini shaker
7. add strawberry puree (we filled it about 1/3)
8. add vodka in an amout that suits your taste (we filled it to about 2/3)
9. add a splash of cointreau
10. cover and shake
11. pour into chilled martini glasses. you can garnish it with a strawberry on the rim to be more festive.
Cheers! A votre sante!
And a few sweet, and one scary, links for more strawberry scoop:
– Strawberry sauce that I used with Jacques Pepin’s chocolate cake recipe
– A summertime Strawberry Granita from David Lebovitz
– the California Strawberry Commission (sounds like a conspiracy theory)
– a Strawberry Music Festival (who knew?!)
– the California Strawberry Festival (no surprise)
– a German software company (huh?!)
– and the sinister and twisted Evil Strawberry (yikes!)