Although brief, the local strawberry season is long on flavor
From the May 2014 issue
Thirty-four years ago, Patty Parsons married into a family with Sussex County roots. Not only did the Wilmington native need to get better acquainted with her downstate in-laws, but she was also introduced to an unfamiliar dish that appeared at most family get-togethers: strawberry-pretzel salad.
Although there are variations, the dish usually includes gelatin, whipped cream and cream cheese. “I thought it was dessert, and they thought it was a side dish,” recalls Parsons, who now lives in Millsboro. As a compromise, she puts it on a buffet so diners can choose when to spoon it on their plate. (At The Georgia House, which has locations in Selbyville, Millsboro and Milford, the dish is listed as a side and not a salad. “It’s very popular,” says general manager Kristal Hastings.)
Many recipes call for frozen strawberries, but when the season is ripe — from about the middle of May to mid-June — many opt for fresh. And no wonder. Nothing says summer like a fat strawberry, oozing juice and colored red all the way through.
The beach’s love affair with strawberries dates back to 1872, when the Breakwater and Frankford Railroad extended into Selbyville, in part to ship the area’s favorite fruit. By 1918 (the peak year), 250,000 crates of strawberries were leaving the station, auctions were held in the town’s center and, reportedly, some people used the berries as currency in town markets. Red stele, a fungus disease that attacks the stems of the plants, had much to do with the demise of the local strawberry industry, says Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee. “There was no chemical control and the plant breeders had not developed resistant varieties,” he says. “Interestingly, the failure of the strawberry industry opened the door for interest in growing chickens as an alternative income source.”
Yet strawberries remain a local staple. In fact, in 2010, the strawberry became the state fruit. In 2012, farmers throughout the state farmed 60 acres of strawberries, producing 190,000 pounds valued at $223,000. At the beach, Magee Farms, a fifth-generation business, has grown strawberries for more than 25 years. You-pick options are offered at its site on Route 54 between Fenwick Island and Selbyville and on Wescoats Road (Road 268A), between Savannah Road and Route 1, near Lewes.
To take advantage of the short season, Parsons makes “freezer” strawberry jam. Instead of sterilizing jars and storing the jam on the shelf, she pops the finished product in the freezer. How long will it stay good? “I don’t know,” she confesses. “We always eat it so quickly.”
Adapted from a Kraft recipe
2 cups of crushed pretzels
½ cup of sugar, divided
2⁄3 cup of butter or margarine, melted
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese,
2 tablespoons of milk
1 cup of thawed whipped topping
2 cups of boiling water
1 6-ounce package of strawberry-flavor gelatin
1½ cups of cold water
4 cups of fresh strawberries, sliced
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the pretzel bits with 1⁄4 cup of sugar and the butter. Press the mix onto the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch pan. Bake 10 minutes. Cool.
Beat the cream cheese, remaining sugar and milk until blended. Stir in the whipped topping. Spread over crust. Refrigerate until ready to use.
In a large bowl, add boiling water to the
gelatin mix. Stir two minutes until completely dissolved. Stir in cold water. Refrigerate 1½ hours until thickened. Then stir in berries, and spoon over the cream cheese layer. Refrigerate three hours or until firm.