FRONT BURNER: Roasted strawberries, syrup seasonal treats

Roasted Strawberries 
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Roasted Strawberries (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

If the old adage "we are what we eat" is true, I will soon turn into a strawberry.

At least once a week over the past month, my husband and I have been masking up and making the short drive to Cabot to buy strawberries.

So far we've enjoyed berries from Barnhill Orchards, Holland Bottom Farms and the Cabot Patch. All have been excellent.

Most of the berries get eaten fresh with just a brief rinse under cool water or sliced, sugared and spooned over shortcake. But because our eyes are always hungrier than our bellies, we tend to buy more than we can eat in a day or two. In my book, one of the worst things you can do to an Arkansas strawberry is put it in the refrigerator. So to keep those extra berries edible until I can do something with them, I crank up the AC in our kitchen (we have central air, but also a window unit in the kitchen to keep the hot-flashing cook comfortable) and leave them on the counter. That usually buys me another day. They're not the blushing beauties they once were at that point, but they're still quite delicious.

The process seems to be working. So far I had to throw very few berries away — and by throw away, I mean give to my giant dog as a treat. He loves strawberries almost as much as he loves butter.

As for what I'm making with those slightly past their prime berries — some are sliced and roasted with sugar, lemon juice and a drop or two of rosewater. Some are pureed. And some are turned into syrup.

Strawberry Syrup
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Strawberry Syrup (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

I don't know how much longer we can expect Arkansas' strawberry crop to stick around, but I plan to enjoy it as long as I can.

But even when it's over, these recipes will turn even ordinary grocery store berries into something special.

Roasted Strawberries

2 ½ pounds capped and sliced strawberries

½ cup sugar, or more to taste

Juice of 1 lemon

Rosewater, optional

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice and mix well. Arrange mixture on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through. The berries will thicken and turn jammy, but should not brown. If desired, stir in a few drops of rosewater extract. Transfer to a jar or other air tight container. Store in the refrigerator.

Makes about 2 cups.

Use this syrup anywhere you'd like a sweet punch of strawberry flavor — over pancakes, to sweeten and flavor cocktails, mix it with club soda for homemade strawberry soda, or my current favorite for strawberry milk and milkshakes. Add about a tablespoon of syrup per cup of milk. It takes almost just like Strawberry Quick — but better!

Strawberry Syrup

1 pound fresh strawberries

1 cup granulated sugar

Cap and halve or quarter berries into a large heat-safe bowl.

In a small saucepan combine the sugar and 1 cup of water. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Boil 2 minutes. Pour hot mixture over the strawberries in the bowl. Let stand at room temperature 6 to 8 hours (or overnight). I stirred the mixture every so often, but it isn't necessary. Strain syrup (reserve the solids) through a fine-mesh sieve and store in a jar in the refrigerator. The spent berries are delicious with cake, ice cream or even as cocktail garnishes.

Makes about 2 cups.

Food on 05/27/2020

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