THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Bay State berries making their debuts

By Jonathan Levitt
Globe Correspondent / June 15, 2011

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After months of fruit from far away, we finally have strawberries from our own gardens. What we usually see in the markets — big, red, unblemished berries, mostly from California — have been replaced briefly by berries from Bay State farmers.

Strawberries are sweetest when they ripen on the plant into natural sugary wonders. We grow two types: June-bearing, and day-neutral. June-bearing plants flower in May, begin to set fruit in early June, and will produce large berries in abundance for a couple of weeks. Day-neutral plants produce small harvests of relatively small fruit from June to October. In the market, look for shiny and plump berries with a bright green calyx (or hull). The darker the berry, the riper the fruit, and ripe berries are delicate. At home, lay them out on a paper-lined baking sheet. Wash strawberries right before you use them.

Then hull and crush the berries, and spoon them over sweet cream; marinate them in Beaujolais; or turn them into a thick jam. Balsamic vinegar and black pepper are both unexpected companions that have a way of coaxing out the deepest berry flavors. Strawberries also work in arugula salad with goat cheese. At Noma, the celebrated hyper-regional Nordic restaurant in Copenhagen, chef René Redzepi serves tart, unripe, green strawberries with Dover sole, cabbage, and new potatoes.

On the sweet side, strawberries are too delicate for pies and crumbles, but perfect with flaky shortcakes and sweetened whipped cream. Something more offbeat is a strawberry cheese tart. Fill a sheet of baked puff pastry with a lightly sweetened, lemony ricotta, then bake it again, and serve with strawberries. If your fruits are not perfect, make a gratin by layering them in a baking dish with custard, then broiling until bubbling.

Blemished berries are also delicious set in a bowl on the back porch, with another bowl of plain yogurt, and a third of chopped almonds. Put your feet up and dig in. Strawberries are here. And so is summer.

Jonathan Levitt can be reached at jon.levitt@gmail.com.