“We got some good runners this year,” Jack Algiere, Stone Barns’ vegetable farmer, said to me last summer, trying to explain how, as if by magic, the number of strawberry plants had multiplied from 500 to 4,000.
Feigning understanding—what do runners have to do with anything?—I crouched down to examine the crop. These weren’t the fist-size berries you’d recognize from supermarkets and hotel buffets. Each one was small and plump, and when I popped one of the dark, red jewels into my mouth, it burst with warm juice.
Thanks to the big food chains, brand-name cartons of shiny, symmetrical berries are as ubiquitous as General Mills, shipped to supermarkets year-round from farms in California or Chile, Oregon or Argentina. What you don’t see on the labels, however, is the fact that it costs more than 400 fossil-fuel calories to fly a single 5-calorie strawberry from California to my neighborhood supermarket in New York City, according to nutritionist Joan Dye Gussow.
But increasingly, shoppers are beginning to identify other names, those of local farmers, like Jack, who grow strawberries bred for their delicious flavor rather than their uniformity. One taste of his Tristar berries (so-called because of their three-month growing season) and you’ll see why these summer fruits are worth waiting for.
Strawberries and Cream
For the panna cotta
2 quarts heavy cream
1½ cups condensed milk
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
3 sheets gelatin
For the granite
1 lb strawberries
½ cup sugar
For the strawberries
2 lbs strawberries
1 cup sugar
Make the panna cotta
- In a medium saucepan, heat heavy cream, milk, vanilla beans, and seeds over moderate heat, stirring constantly. Bring mixture just to a simmer, then remove from heat and discard vanilla beans.
- Soften gelatin sheets in cool water.
- Stir gelatin into heavy cream mixture.
- Pour into glasses and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the panna cotta sets, at least 3 hours.
- Mix strawberries and sugar, and let stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes.
- Transfer berries to food processor or blender and puree.
- Strain through a fine sieve, pressing on the solids to extract all the juice. Discard solids.
- Pour granite mixture into a shallow metal pan and freeze for about 45 minutes. Stir with a fork every 30 minutes until mixture is a slushy, icy consistency. It will take 2½ to 4 hours, depending on the size and depth of your pan and the temperature of your freezer.
Mix strawberries and sugar and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Strain and reserve.
Layer strawberries and granite on top of the panna cotta and enjoy. Serves eight.
Dan Barber is the executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill restaurant in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, located within Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a pioneering farm and education facility in Pocantico Hills, New York (bluehillnyc.com).
Story by Dan Barber. This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2008.
Copyright Environ Press 2008