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.
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.
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.
Strawberry Poppy Seed Crisp
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