Pick Your Own (Not Chickens)


I’m all up in the moment. Part of being in the Hamptons is to partake of whatever it is . . . well, people partake of. (Thank god the bowel-cleansing craze is behind us.)

To me, that means strawberries in June.

For many years, I tried to grow my own. It’s a bitch because the birds are out there, vigilantly watching your crop. Just when you think a big plump berry needs one more day to ripen, they swoop in and eat it.

Bird lovers should note Scarlet Tanager and Tufted Titmouse, named after two girls I dated, are among the regulars as is the Black-Head Grosbeak, named after a guy in my high school physics class.

Nowadays I’m stymied in my desire to grow my own by literally millions of ticks that want to mount me (I said ticks as opposed to titmice).

And so, we did the pick your own (strawberries, not nose) thing over the weekend and I immersed myself in the assorted family recipes I have to take advantage of the bounty.

I am by no means a professional chef, but I stand by my recipes and know my way around the kitchen. Let me rephrase that: No one has ever gotten sick from eating my food. Karen’s relatives, occasionally subject to her experiments in the kitchen, can make no such claim — a couple are literally clinging to life months after eating Karen’s meatloaf casserole which tasted suspiciously like Meatloaf the singer and not the ground beef variety.

Strawberry Shortcake: This was a childhood favorite back when the frozen strawberries in the supermarket freezer case had 46 chemicals, the whipped cream didn’t have real cream, and the shortcake was flour, sugar, and animal fat.

Shortcake is easy to make but the real thing is kind of boring, so I buy the little round cakes at the supermarket.

Clean and slice a pint of the sweetest berries, sprinkle with granulated sugar, and put in fridge for 10 or so minutes. Meanwhile, warm a shortcake shell. Take out berries, add a teaspoon of water, and microwave for 30 seconds until warm.

Here’s my secret: layer a half-scoop of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream on cake. Pour strawberries over that. Finish with real whipped cream — don’t buy a spray can that says “contains” real whipped cream.

Next up is corn: We grill it, put it in Tex Mex salad, or eat it off the cob. My grandmother Tessie loses a tooth every summer; I’m betting she has a few more left (years, not teeth). Trivia: How many ears of corn does the average corn plant yield? One, my friends.

Striped bass: Catch you own or get some from a fisherman friend. Pick a fat filet and clean it thoroughly. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and coat with flour.

In a cast iron pan, heat up some oil and drop filet in when hot. Turn after it is gold brown (about three minutes). Turn off heat and add sherry, white wine, and lemon juice and let it boil down. Meanwhile, turn on broiler and place fish under the flame with a few pats of butter on top and broil until burn marks appear. Serve with pan juices.

Tomatoes: When my garden was on a roll, we’d have them every night: BLTs, tomatoes and mozzarella, as a sauce with pasta, or in a cold salad with cukes, olives, and red onion.

Toward the end of the season, drop them whole into boiling water, let cool, squeeze skins off, and crumble into a freezer bag with fresh parsley and basil from your garden. This way you can make “fresh” tomato sauce year-round.

Did I mention apple pie and strudel, peach cobbler, candied pears in brandy, and so on? We had a few trees, enough for the whole neighborhood to eat from.

Of course, that’s not including the zucchini, pole beans, peppers, and everything else. If you were as lucky as me growing up, chicken, raised right there in the yard also fits the bill. (Kill it before you eat it, though.)

So here is what makes it all pretty amazing: You can have corn, broiled striped bass, tomato salad, and strawberries for dessert without even realizing everything on the table was alive that morning. Provided Aunt Tessie cooperates.

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