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Native Cooking

Historically, Native people used wild strawberries as both a food and medicine. In fact, we ate wild strawberries as a cold remedy long before Vitamin C was even known. Cranberries were also used in the same way. Wild strawberry juice mixed with water was a poultice to bathe reddened eyes, to soothe infected sores and sunburn. A tea made from the dried leaves was ingested for stomach and kidney troubles. My own grandmother always kept a tin of wild strawberry leaves in the cupboard near the other teas. Lord have mercy on you if you touched them without asking. She considered them sacred medicine. She lived to be 96.

A spring tonic and blood toner was also made from the wild strawberry roots. This form of bitters was said to rid the body of winter toxins. Berries were also made into a paste to remove tartar, clean teeth and relieve toothache pain.

Because strawberries are so sweet and juicy, as well as a gorgeous red color, they can make any meal tasty and pretty. They are the No. 1 favorite berry in the world. There are hundreds of cultivated varieties of strawberries, but the wild varieties are much smaller in size and more intense in flavor. Aside from being an excellent source of Vitamin C and manganese, they also contain fiber, iodine, potassium, folate, vitamins B5, B6 and K, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium and copper. Whew!

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Morning Red Clouds

3 to 4 cups fresh wild or cultivated strawberries, hulled and thick-sliced if needed

2 cups sour cream (low-fat is OK)

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 dozen or more thin pancakes

Gently mix together the brown sugar and sour cream; fold in strawberries. Top each pancake with about 2 large tablespoons of the mixture. Note: this recipe works well with sliced peaches, blueberries, raspberries, etc.

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Traditional Johnnycakes

2 cups stone-ground white cornmeal

2 cups boiling water

1 - 2 teaspoons maple sugar (you may need more)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons shortening

1/2 cup fresh wild strawberries

Mix cornmeal, water, salt and maple sugar. Heat the shortening in a large frying pan. Drop large spoonfuls of the batter onto the pan. Cakes should be about 3 inches in diameter. Sprinkle a few strawberries over each cake. Cook about 3 to 5 minutes per side until golden.

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Cold soups, like beet soup, gazpacho, cucumber and others, are amazing and refreshing, especially for a hot weather lunch or group meal. The following strawberry soup is one of them.

Chilled Strawberry Soup

2 pints (4 cups) fresh strawberries, washed and hulled

1 cup orange juice

2 teaspoons instant tapioca

1 pinch allspice

1 pinch cinnamon

1/2 cup sugar (or substitute)

1 teaspoon lemon peel, grated

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup buttermilk

Set aside six lovely strawberries for garnish later. Puree the rest in a blender or food processor, then strain into a large saucepan and add the orange juice. Take 4 tablespoons of the puree mixture and mix with tapioca in a small bowl. Add the allspice and cinnamon to the bowl, then put all in the saucepan and heat, bringing to a boil. Stir constantly for 1 minute until entire mixture becomes thickened. Remove from heat.

Pour the soup into a large bowl and add sugar, lemon peel and juice, then buttermilk; mix well. Cover and chill for 4 hours. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, a sprig of mint and one of the reserved strawberries. This recipe serves about 6.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

3 cups rhubarb, cut in 1/2-inch pieces

1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered

2 cups sugar

1 3-oz.package strawberry Jell-O

Put rhubarb in a heavy saucepan and cover with sugar. Heat slowly until rhubarb gives up some of its liquid. Stir and raise heat as rhubarb becomes more liquid. (Don't scrape the pot: it makes jam sugary). Simmer until rhubarb falls apart; add strawberries and simmer for 1 more minute. Remove from heat and add Jell-O, stirring to blend. Pour into sterile jars and seal. Recipe makes 5 to 6 cups.

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Notes and Tips

--Strawberries are the only fruit with their seeds on the outside. They are usually sown by birds that eat the berries and pass the seeds in pretty good condition. Then these seeds germinate by sun instead of moisture, so they do not need to be covered with dirt to start growing.

--Buy strawberries only a few days before use. They are perishable. Try to find those that are firm, plump and not under-ripe because once they are picked they do not ripen any further.

--To freeze strawberries, wash gently and put them on a flat pan in a single layer, not touching. Squeeze a little lemon juice over them to help keep their color. When frozen, you can transfer them to a heavy plastic bag and back into the freezer, where they will keep for up to one year.

--Do not wash fresh berries until just before using. Remove stems after they are washed.

--Add sliced fresh strawberries to a mixed dark green salad.