The incredible bliss of June in Maine

Maine lupine in blossom

Maine lupine in blossom

The solstice! And Maine is at its most glorious—the longest, sweetest days of the year. Even on a day like today when rain clatters on the rooftops and soaks deep into the garden plots, it still feels blessedly like summer, our reward for a long, cold, and difficult winter that lasted well into spring.

June, my friend Peggy claims, is Maine’s secret gift—because most of the summer residents (summer complaints, we used to call them) and the tourists come later and miss the grace of this most brilliant season. They miss the clouds of lupine casting blue and pink blossoms across our fields, they miss the blowsy peonies, pink, white, and deep magenta–a little embarrassing, like elderly aunts with too much make-up on, still bobbing and swaying to the music of the dance.

Most of all they miss the strawberries—the real reason for June in Maine. strawberries Camden marketSuddenly straw-berries are everywhere, boxes overflowing at farm-stands and farmers’ markets. Kids pick straw-berries and sell them by the roadsides or go door to door with their provender, and pick-your-own fields are dotted with diligent harvesters, their heads buzzing with dreams of strawberry jam and strawberry shortcake, strawberry pie and strawberry ice cream.

These northern strawberries, with their painfully short season, are
like no others, far distant cousins to the big, tough, rowdy, tasteless things that come in from California—and that far too many of our less enlightened supermarkets continue to stock even when it’s strawberry time in Maine.

No, these cold-climate strawberries, in season briefly, just two or three weeks at best, are tiny miracles of flavor. P1040046Small, intensely sweet and flavorful but with an acid bite, they burst in your mouth with what feels like the very epitome of strawberriness, the archetypal strawberry.

This is the moment to offer up that famous quotation about God never making a better berry, sometimes attributed to a 19th-century New York lawyer and poetaster. In fact it was a Dr. Butler (or Boteler, in the 17th century spelling) quoted in Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler. Here’s what Walton said:

Indeed, my good scholar, we may say of angling, as Dr. Boteler said of strawberries, ‘Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.’

Blessings on you, Izaak, truer words were never spoken.

But what to do with all those strawberries? Make haste for the season is brief. You could not do better than begin with a big bowl of berries, still warm from the summer sun, an equivalent bowl of fresh, thick cream, and a small saucer of sugar. Take it all out to the front porch and indulge–strawberries, cream, sugar, one after the other–until you are sated. When that happens, go back into the kitchen and make strawberry wine sauce, the simplest sort of sauce that I learned about in northern Tuscany: strawberries, red wine, sugar to taste, boiled down until it is thick enough to sauce a dish of vanilla ice cream. Then go on to strawberry shortcake the way we do it in Maine, with baking powder biscuits, split open and buttered while still warm, piled with lightly crushed and sweetened berries and topped with a dollop of whipped cream flavored with a bit of vanilla. After that it should be time for strawberry jam, fruit and sugar, no pectin, and cooked just long enough to retain the fresh fruit flavors. And then. . . start all over again. Or try this strawberry risotto, a memory of one we used to have often many years ago when we lived in Rome: View Strawberry Risotto Recipe



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