One summer in college, I was really lucky and my parents flew me to Finland to visit one of my teammates. One day we went to her summer home. Her parents drove us through the twisting Finish countryside of green fields lined by trees. We turned off the small highway and onto a dirt road. The trees hung like canopies and we rolled cautiously over the pothole-riddled dirt. Emerging from the dense cover, we drove through a field of tall waving grass, dotted with wild flowers. We pulled to a stop by a one-room cabin and I could see the small, overgrown path to the lake. The day was spent sprinting between an old-fashioned wood sauna and the cool refreshing lake. I thought it couldn’t get any better.
Finland was an interesting place. When people come to visit me at home, my list of tourist attractions is predominantly made up of restaurants. I remember eating out twice in the 10 days while I was there, and it was only because of necessity. However, the food remained a highlight of the trip. Finish meatballs, Bar-B-Q’s with her friends and reindeer (don’t worry, I didn’t eat Rudolph). What I will remember most, more then the sauna and the lake house and fields upon fields of wild flowers, were the strawberries. On the street corners in Helsinki were stands of fresh strawberries. We found them block after block, sometimes kiddy-corner from one another like Starbucks in Seattle.
The smell they gave the air as I walked past was intoxicating. The sweetness was not just bright like the bursting flavor from a lemon. It was a rich and bold taste that stayed with my tongue long after I swallowed. I didn’t know what summer tasted like until I bit into its sweet redness.
Until my senior year of college, I never tasted strawberries like that again and then I went to the Moraga Farmer’s Market. My favorite vendor had a special variety of strawberry called Chandler. They are AMAZING! I won’t say they are as good as the Finish ones I had, because memories are always sweeter, but they are certainly close.
With a very short season, I like to eat them non-stop while I can. In honor of the fresh Caprese salad her mother made, I have created my own twist, replacing tomatoes with these amazing strawberries.
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 TBS sugar
1/8 tsp black pepper
60 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
15 strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
1 TBS fresh basil, chopped
Bring the balsamic vinegar, sugar and pepper to a simmer. Reduce by half (liquid should be thick and syrupy).
Layer strawberries and mozzarella on a large plate. Top with balsamic reduction and basil. Serve immediately.Recipe in print-friendly format