Dreaming of juicy, red Chandler strawberries.
In May, the fragrance of strawberries drifts through local farmers markets. Follow the scent, and you may find yourself at the Swanton Berry Farm stand.
Swanton is one of a number of excellent organic strawberry farms serving the East Bay, but this grower stands out with its distinctive blue boxes overflowing with Chandler strawberries, which are very much the strawberries of our dreams—red all the way through and juicy.
“You know how people talk about their grandma’s peaches. Chandler berries are like your grandma’s peaches,” says farm manager Barren Boaen. “They’re deep and complex.”
Pizzaiolo’s pastry chef, Kiri Mah, often works them into jams or tosses them into strawberry sauce to accompany cannoli. She likes to use them because “they have a nice, rounded, classic flavor.”
Cultivated more for their taste than their hardiness, Chandlers are particularly fragile, but because the farm is only a short distance away in Davenport, the farm can sell them at their peak.
The farm is equally notable for its unionized labor. “When people ask why our berries taste so good, I’ll often quip that it’s the social justice they’re tasting,” says Boaen Another, suggesting the farm’s relationship with its workers improves the quality of the berries.
Swanton’s unionized workers also have a stock-option plan, medical benefits, and are paid by the hour, which enables them to pick more slowly and carefully; their counterparts are typically paid by the berry, an incentive to rush through the strawberry fields.
“They’re trying to pick the best possible berry,” says Boaen of Swanton pickers.
Chandlers are reliably at their peak in May and early June. Some fluctuation in flavor is because of water content (foggier days mean more-watery berries) and sunlight (with sunnier days equally riper strawberries).
Boaen recommends choosing berries that are deeply red, with uniform color. They keep best in dry cold. To offset a refrigerator’s humidity, he suggests storing them with paper towels to help absorb moisture.
Swanton’s farm stand operates at the Temescal farmers’ market on Sundays, the North Berkeley farmers’ market on Tuesdays, and the Grand Lake farmers’ market on Saturdays. —Cynthia Salaysay
Recipe by Kiri Mah, pastry chef, Pizzaiolo
10 pints strawberries
3 1/4 cups organic sugar
Hull the strawberries and cut big strawberries in half. Using a paring knife, remove lemon peel in four large strips, including both the zest and the pith, and juice the lemon. Combine the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice and peel in a nonreactive bowl, cover, and let sit overnight in the refrigerator.
When ready to cook, boil hard in a wide, shallow, heavy-bottomed pan until set (Rachel Saunders’ Blue Chair Jam Cookbook has an excellent primer on making jam and canning). Remove lemon zest pieces and pack into hot jars and process. Makes 3 quarts.