Of Strawberries and Sweet Memories

Strawberries get blanketed by a super crisp topping.

Strawberries get blanketed by a super crisp topping.


Strawberries hold a trove of memories for me.

Of whipped cream-slathered, fresh strawberry layer cakes that my Dad toted home from Chinatown bakeries for a special treat.

Of bowls of berries hidden by a mountain of aerosol-spurted whipped cream my parents would sometimes indulge us with for dessert in summer.

Of aching quads after my girlfriends and I once spent an afternoon at a u-pick, plucking our own super ripe, juicy berries from rows of lush, low-lying plants.

And of the consternation my older brother felt when he tried to grow them in our own backyard, only to have the bugs gnaw away at most of them.

But in many ways, one of the most profound remembrances I have is not of the berries themselves, but of the small, green crisscross plastic baskets they come in.

Strawberries from the farmers market in their iconic basket.

Strawberries from the farmers market in their iconic basket.

Whenever I bring the berries home now from the farmers markets and empty them out of of their containers, I can’t help but think of those baskets.

Of their utilitarian nature.

Of the times as a kid, I would reinvent them into pint-size dwellings for teeny plastic figurines.

Or my Mom would re-use them to hold garlic heads on the kitchen counter.

Or sewing supplies.

Or my Dad would stash them away until Easter, when he’d re-use them, filling them with jelly jeans, cream eggs and a foil-wrapped chocolate bunny that he’d leave for me to find in surprise when I was just a tot.

In this day and age of technologically-advanced this or designer that, it seems almost quaint now that a plastic basket can capture an imagination like that.

Indeed, it’s funny how succulent spring berries can be, yet their container somehow even sweeter still.

My latest stash of berries were transformed into “Strawberry Poppy Seed Crisp.” It’s a recipe from the new “A Modern Way to Eat” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy.

AModernWayToEatThe vegetarian cookbook is by Anna Jones, a British cook and writer, who has worked for chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi, Sophie Dahl, Stevie Parle and Jamie Oliver.

The book contains more than 200 recipes, heavy on seasonal produce, nuts, seeds and grains, that are exceedingly home-cook friendly.

This crisp exemplifies that. A layer of fresh strawberries gets scattered at the bottom of baking pan with sugar, vanilla bean seeds and lemon zest. Its topping is not the usual pastry-like streusel, but a hardier one of almond meal, steel-cut oats and poppy seeds.

It comes together easily and bakes in less than half an hour. You could slide it in the oven, and bake it while you sit down to dinner, and have a warm fruit dessert waiting perfectly afterward.

The berries turn jammy when baked, covered with a blanket of bird seed-like crackling crunch.

Serve the crisp with whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream, if you like.

Even then, there’s something quite wholesome about it.

Just like those memories of a simple plastic basket.

Shhh, it's pretty great for breakfast, too.

Shhh, it’s pretty great for breakfast, too.

Strawberry Poppy Seed Crisp

(Serves 4)

1 3/4 pounds hulled strawberries, cut into halves and quarters

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unrefined light brown sugar

Grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

Seeds from 1 vanilla pod

1 cup almond flour

1 cup steel-cut oats

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Grated zest of 1 unwaxed orange

7 tablespoons cold unsalted butter or coconut oil

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Put the strawberries into an ovenproof dish (a pie pan is a good size) with the 3 tablespoons of sugar, lemon zest and vanilla seeds.

Mix the almond flour, oats, poppy seeds, and the rest of the sugar in a bowl and add the orange zest.

Break the butter into little chunks and add it to the bowl or pour in the coconut oil and then use your fingers to rub the mixture together, lifting them out of the bowl to get some air into the crisp topping. Once the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs and there are no big lumps of butter, you’re ready to go.

Pile the mixture on top of the strawberries and bake in the hot oven for 25 minutes, until the top is golden and the strawberries have shrunk and started to caramelize around the edges.

Serve with a big spoonful of coconut yogurt, cream, ice cream, whipped cream or custard.

Adapted from “A Modern Way to Eat” by Anna Jones


More Strawberry Goodness: Strawberry Shortcakes with Greek Yogurt


And: Strawberry Kefir Panna Cotta


And: Humphry Slocombe’s “Here’s Your Damn Strawberry Ice Cream”


And: Strawberry Galette with Basil Whipped Cream

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  • Very original and surely divine! I’ll have to try that topping next time I make crumble…



  • You know, I’ve marveled over those baskets hundreds of times, but I think you’re the first person to write about them. At least the first that I’ve read! Strawberries and poppy seeds are a wonderful combo! Not one I usually put together — only sometimes as a topping (with whipped cream) for a poppy seed cake. Love this crisp — sounds so good. Thanks.

  • Definitely a wonderful recipe to welcome summer!

  • that’s definitely among the crispiest crisps i’ve ever seen! great post–thanks for sharing some of your memories. many of us had similar experiences with those baskets!

  • BEAUTIFUL seasonal dessert! Love strawberries. Also love the nostalgia that strawberries bring to you 🙂

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