City Mouse Visits Farm House: Rediscovering The Sweetest Sign of Summer

One of my favorite sights of late spring and early summer is strawberries. Consider these ridiculously delicious curvy crimson cuties the LBD of your summer nutrition style-book – a no-brainer staple that makes you look great and feel great. Research has linked the nutrients in strawberries  particularly vitamin C, fiber, folate, potassium and antioxidants – to a number of cardiovascular, cognitive, anti-aging and anti-inflammatory benefits as well as a reduced risk of certain cancers.  My tired face and body say YES PLEASE to that list. Plus: you can’t deny their perfect summer sexy mani-pedi hue.

Strawberries: We Go WAY Back 

My love affair with the bodacious berry began when visiting my grandparents over summers in small town southern Illinois. My maternal grandpa raised his family “in town” but maintained the farm he was raised on and my mom spent loads of time there with her paternal grandparents, as a child.

My Mom with her Grandpa on the farm; mid 1940s

Farm Flashback 

Each year, in addition to overseeing 300 acres of corn, soybean and wheat crops, my grandpa tended a large farm garden filled with green beans and onions, lettuce, okra, radishes, rhubarb, tomatoes and zucchini.

And then, there was “my patch” for planting an annual fruit or veggie of my choosing. It was always strawberries – the same fruit (gathered at the local u-pick) that maxed out the farm porch freezer in bulging repurposed and masking tape-sealed cottage cheese and sherbet containers. My grandma used the supply to make strawberry rhubarb pie, strawberry jam and ice cream topping.

strawberry patch
My Grandpa in his garden and my daughter getting patriotic in the space the strawberry patch once occupied

Our farm has been designated a centennial farm by The Illinois Department of Agriculture, authenticating that it has been in the same family for 100+ years. It is now a sweet and serene retreat for the fifth (my mom and her brother) – seventh (my children and their cousins) generation of my family, while a local member of our extended family farms the land.

Family farm pride

When we’re there (and I sleep in what was once my grandpa’s childhood bedroom) I can’t help but picture what life was like for the first members of my family who lived there in the mid-nineteenth century.  One’s day-to-day ability to operate was based on the number on their rain gage rather than the strength of their wifi signal.

Returning out of my detailed daydream…Some of our favorite ways to enjoy strawberries when they are plump, ripe and from-the-garden fresh:

Strawberry Mozzarella Basil Balsamic Skewers 

Caprese skewers like these have been a really popular appetizer the last few years. Since I love the combination of strawberries and balsamic, I decided to substitute strawberries for the tomatoes.  They are a hit at my house and a simple summer salad substitute.

strawberry skewers

Plus, my girls enjoy helping with assembly.

skewer assembly

Strawberry “Shortcake”

We use Angel Food cake for a shortcake that is easy and lower in fat and sugar but there are so many different options – many of which are not cake at all. My grandma used to put a layer of broken pie crust on the bottom of serving bowls, cover it with strawberries that had been macerated in sugar and top with whipped cream.  And, my grandpa always liked crushed Saltines topped with strawberries and milk.  This version made with phyllo sounds divine.

Strawberry shortcake = clean plate.
Strawberry shortcake = clean plate

And More Ways…

A few other ways we love our strawberries:

What food stirs fond summer memories for you?  Share your stories via comment.

Wishing you the peace and magic of our little family farm this summer.

This piece originally appeared on Smart Eating for Kids.