One of my favorite childhood memories is picking fresh Oregon blackberries right off the thorny bushes along the dirt road where I lived. I’d take a container to collect the berries, but few made it to the bowl. I love to find blackberries growing along the trail when hiking in the woods. They taste like summer.
Berry season is in full swing in Oregon. With strawberries first on the Environmental Working Group’s list of the “Dirty Dozen,” the foods most contaminated by pesticides, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find a quart of organic strawberries available at the grocery store for just 50 cents more than conventional for the last several weeks. So I’ve been packing fresh fruit in my lunch — a banana with strawberries or blueberries, or both, with some granola, nuts or seeds.
Cherries are plentiful this month, too, and blueberries are in. In fact, you can pick your own at Gibson’s Farm in Siletz.
Organic frozen cherries were finally in stock at Fred Meyer this week. Cherries, too, are on the Dirty Dozen list at number eight. I usually buy them frozen because organic fresh cherries aren’t available where I shop.
I use the frozen berries to make smoothies, adding a banana to frozen blueberries and cherries in a blender. A spoon full of peanut butter or almond butter adds protein, or you could use a protein powder. Blended with a little bit of milk, it makes a satisfying smoothie. A smoothie is a great alternative to ice cream and can be made with any kind of fruit or berries.
With so many local restaurants closed for weeks at the start of the pandemic, I spent more time in the kitchen. Strawberry shortcake from scratch seemed a bit too complicated, so I mastered French toast to accompany the delicious, plentiful strawberries. When fresh berries become scarce, it will be good with maple syrup, too.
Using thick slices of brioche, a sweet, buttery, pastry-like bread, adds another dimension to French toast. Of course, fresh bakery bread is best, but Trader Joe’s sells a good loaf of brioche, and Sara Lee makes one that is available in most grocery stores.
I dip the bread in a mixture of eggs, a splash of milk and a dash of vanilla extract. Using a cast iron skillet, I brown the bread in a little bit of butter, keeping the cooked slices warm in the oven so that everyone can eat together.
I don’t add sugar to the strawberries, just core and slice them. I do add a little bit of powdered sugar, as well as a dash of vanilla, to heavy cream before whipping it with a hand mixer. I pile the berries on the French toast and top them with the fresh, whipped cream, which makes this basic, simple meal seem special.
My guys love this, and Sunday brunch at home has become our routine. I miss having people over, though, and was looking forward to summer houseguests, but it’s not likely that will happen while strawberries are still in season.