I have long had a soft spot in my heart for strawberry season.
It comes at a good time of year. Running from late May to early June, the weather is often a benign mixture of the verdure of spring and the warmth of early summer. The fruits of high summer -- peaches, watermelon and cantaloupe -- need the brutal heat of Maryland Julys to bring their flesh to fruition. But strawberries merely require spring's gentle sunshine and modest moisture to produce a sweet harvest.
Filled with graduations and weddings, strawberry season is a time of hope, of life's sweet desserts.
Finally, ever since I was a boy, I have long associated fresh strawberries with a taste of freedom. If fresh strawberries were on the table, that meant school was out for the summer and I was a free lad. No more pencils, no more books, for three libertine months.
As an adult, with year-round responsibilities, my habits, if not my attitudes, have changed during strawberry season. On bright June mornings, I submit to the routines of the working world, but I do so with some reluctance and often with some strawberries for breakfast.
On a recent such morning, I treated myself to strawberries and pancakes. The strawberries, bought at a local farmers' market, were bursting with flavor. Usually such strawberries would end up in a pie, with rhubarb, or atop homemade shortcake. But these particular strawberries were so fresh and I was so hungry that the berries traveled almost straight to the breakfast table.
They made a brief stop at the food processor. Mixed with a little lemon juice and a few spoonfuls of sugar, they were pureed into a thick, red sauce. Their intoxicating aroma filled the kitchen as I fixed the pancakes.
The pancake recipe is a fixture in our kitchen, something I throw together from memory. The only ingredient that is somewhat out of the ordinary is buttermilk. It is an important ingredient, giving the pancakes a distinctive tang, so a container of buttermilk has become a regular resident of our refrigerator. If it gets a little funky, so much the better; that means the pancake batter gets even more tang.
Working quickly, I sifted the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a big mixing bowl, then stirred in the buttermilk and one beaten egg. Sometimes I add melted butter to the mix, but this time I simply melted some butter in the bottom of a skillet, then poured a serving of batter into the skillet.
Soon the pancake batter formed into an oval. In a few minutes, when the top of the pancake batter began to "pop" as bubbles moved through it, I flipped the pancake over. Cooking it for an additional minute or two, I scooped up the golden pancake with a spatula and stored it on a plate sitting in a 200-degree oven. This kept the cooked pancakes warm as I made more in the skillet.
After 5 minutes of flipping, I had a stack of pancakes ready for consumption. Since it was a grand spring morning, with a bright sky, a soft wind and just enough sunshine to feel comfortable, I decided to eat breakfast outdoors. I carried the pancakes and strawberry sauce to a table set up on our backyard patio.
I poured the bright, sweet strawberry sauce over the hot, tangy pancakes and dug in. The pancakes had heft, the sauce had a bright citrus lift. It was a good match. A cardinal, perched in a nearby tree, sang a melody. It was probably territorial birdsong, but to me it sounded like "Strawberry Fields Forever."
Podcasts featuring Rob Kasper are available at baltimoresun.com/kasper.
Buttermilk Pancakes With Fresh Strawberry Sauce
1 cup flour, sifted
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Put flour into sifter, but before sifting add baking powder, salt and baking soda on top. Sift all ingredients into mixing bowl. Stir in beaten egg, buttermilk and melted butter. Mix until ingredients are wetted. Cook on hot skillet or griddle. Serve immediately with fresh strawberry sauce.
Per serving: 207 calories, 7 grams protein, 8 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 27 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 70 milligrams cholesterol, 517 milligrams sodium.
1 pint fresh strawberries, stems removed
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon strained, fresh lemon juice
Puree all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Do not strain. Taste, then stir in more sugar or lemon if needed. Serve at once, either at room temperature or chilled, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Per serving ( 1/4 cup sauce): 43 calories, trace protein, trace fat, trace saturated fat, 11 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.
Adapted From "The Joy of Cooking" (Scribner, 1997)