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June in Michigan means it's strawberry season. We've suffered through the commercial , bland and bloated berries long enough; now comes the pay-off. At the farmers' markets last week, berries were flying out the door as folks lined up at the various tables buying two, three and more quarts.

Business at the u-pick farms is also bustling as pickers fill their buckets with the ruby red delights. We know the season is short, so savvy strawberry lovers try to stock up, even if it means freezing some of the fruit to enjoy later. And the fruit is at its peak right now, so you'd better get busy.

Amanda Bonnville says her family's farm, Degroot's Strawberries in Livingston County, one of Michigan's largest u-pick strawberry farms, is having a really good year.

"We've been in business since 1978 and we're strictly a strawberry farm with 23 acres of fruit. Conditions are great, no frost damage although we could do with less rain," she says.

Degroot's offers pre-picked berries for $20 for 5-quarts or you can pick your own for $1.78 per pound.

"The berries are plentiful and should be available throughout the month," says DeGroot. "This year we will again offer the Earliglow variety, grown for its exceptional sweetness, deep red color, and flavor. Our new midseason variety, Jewel, is a very large, flavorful red berry that keeps its size till the end of the season."

Although, in my opinion, there's nothing better than a fresh, ripe berry, gently washed and glistening being eaten over the sink to catch the juices (I hold the berry by its green, leafy top, take a bite, then toss the remnants in the yard for the birds to finish off), there are so many wonderful ways to enjoy them.

Strawberries are best enjoyed the day they are picked; they are extremely perishable, hate moisture (never wash them until right before you use them) and cold air tends to mute their flavor and fragrance so they will really only last day or two in the fridge. I keep mine wrapped loosely in paper towel, nestle them in a bowl or plastic container and make sure nothing is stacked on top of them as they bruise so easily.

But all that gentle care rewards me with some of the best berry dishes I've ever had. From shortcake to freezer jam, super juicy strawberries always delight. And while the fresh berries are so sweet and delicious, these red gems can also take the heat. I tried roasting strawberries for the first time and loved the results. Serve with a compote or atop a fresh green salad — and even better, vanilla ice cream, which I happen to think is the strawberry's best friend.

But berries can also have a savory side and are wonderful in a late spring/early summer salad. Serve with arugula and fresh ricotta for a fancy dinner or a something to highlight just about anything that comes off the grill. No matter how you use them, better hurry up, they won't last but for another week or so.

klawson@detroitnews.com

Strawberry Cream Cheese Bread

Recipe from food.com

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 3-ounce cream cheese, softened

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk (half-and-half)

1 1/2 cups strawberries, chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)

With electric mixer cream butter, sugar and cream cheese until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Mix in vanilla.

In separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Blend flour mixture with butter mixture just until blended. Add half 'n half and only stir just to blend — do not overstir!

Drain strawberries and blot dry. Carefully just fold in strawberries and nuts. Dough mixture will be thick.

Grease and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Let bread mellow for one day and then serve. Makes 12 servings.

Per serving: 297 calories; 16 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 48 percent calories from fat); 35 g carbohydrates; 17 g sugar; 69 mg cholesterol; 334 mg sodium; 4 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Strawberry Shortcake Cocktail

Recipe from food.com

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 lemon, zest of

1 tablespoon honey

1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries

1 1/2 cups frozen strawberries

1 1/2 cups apple juice, cold

1/2 cup dark rum

1/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs

1 lemon wedge

Fresh strawberries, sliced, to garnish

4 daiquiri glasses, put in the freezer (or martini glasses)

In a bowl, whisk heavy cream, lemon zest and honey until firm peaks. Set aside in the fridge.

In a blender, puree fresh and frozen strawberries, apple juice, rum, sugar and lemon juice.

Put the graham crumbs in a plate.

Remove the glasses from the freezer. With the wedge of lemon, moisten the edges of each glass, them dip in the graham crumbs.

Distribute the cocktail in each glasses. Garnish with whipped cream. Garnish with slices of strawberries. Serves 4.

Per serving: 434 calories; 18 g fat (11 g saturated fat; 37 percent calories from fat); 51 g carbohydrates; 40 g sugar; 62 mg cholesterol; 122 mg sodium; 3 g protein; 3 g fiber.

Strawberry Thyme Butter

1/2 cup strawberry, fresh and diced

1/4 teaspoon thyme, minced optional

1/2 cup butter, softened

Salt, to taste

In a blender or food processor, puree the strawberries and thyme coarsely. Add the butter and salt and blend until fairly smooth. Serve at room temperature.

This can be made one day in advance and refrigerated in a tightly covered container. Allow to become room temperature before serving. Makes 1 cup. Serves 8.

Per serving: 110 calories; 12 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 98 percent calories from fat); 1 g carbohydrate; 0.5 g sugar; 33 mg cholesterol; 124 mg sodium; 0.2 g protein; 0.2 g fiber.

Roasted Strawberries

In fact, most any berry can be roasted to release all the full flavor and beautiful syrup. Serve on grilled chicken, stirred into oatmeal, atop ice cream or yogurt or simply slathered on a slice of toast.

1 pound fresh strawberries

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the strawberries on a sheet pan and toss with the sugar and vanilla. Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Cool to room temperature before serving. Makes about 1 cup or 8 servings.

Per serving (per 2 tablespoons): 41 calories; 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat; 0 percent calories from fat); 10 g carbohydrates; 9 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 1 mg sodium; 0.3 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Strawberry-Arugula Salad with Ricotta Topping

Recipe from thekitchn.com

4 pints strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced into quarters

1 pint raspberries, washed and blotted dry

1-2 cups sliced almonds

1 small bunch baby arugula, sliced into thin ribbons

Kosher salt

2 lemons, zested and juiced

1 1/2 cups fresh, drained ricotta cheese

2 tablespoons sugar (or more, to taste)

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Toss the strawberries, raspberries, almonds, and sliced arugula with a pinch of kosher salt and the zest of 1 lemon.

For the dressing:

In a separate bowl, mix the lemon juice and remaining lemon zest with the ricotta, sugar, and nutmeg. Taste and sweeten to taste, if necessary.

Serve the salad with the dressing on the side. Serves 8.

Per serving: 285 calories; 18 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 57 percent calories from fat); 24 g carbohydrates; 16 g sugar; 23 mg cholesterol; 58 mg sodium; 11 g protein; 8 g fiber.

3-Ingredient Fresh Strawberry Pie

A super simple pie recipe that showcases the beautiful strawberry and nothing else. Be sure to have soft whipped cream or vanilla ice cream on hand to serve on the pie. From simplebites.net.

1 blind baked pie crust

9 cups small ripe strawberries, hulled

1/3 cup apple jelly

Have ready a 9-inch baked pie crust.

Wash strawberries under cold running water and drain well. Dry on a tea towel or paper towel, then transfer the berries to a large bowl.

In a small sauce pot, warm apple jelly until it is runny. Whisk it to eliminate the lumps.

Pour the syrup over the berries and toss them gently to coat completely.

Mound the berries up high in the pie shell. Refrigerate for at least one hour and up to 6 hours.

Serve with plenty of sweetened whipped cream.

I like to use the smallest berries and keep them whole, but if you only have large, cut them in half or quarters. Serves 6.

Per serving: 249 calories; 11 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 40 percent calories from fat); 36 g carbohydrates; 18 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 174 mg sodium; 3 g protein; 5 g fiber.

Mascarpone Tart with Strawberries

Notes: Mascarpone is a soft Italian version of cream cheese. You can make this tart (through step 4) up to 1 day ahead. Prep and cook time: about 1 hour, plus at least 1 1/2 hours to cool and chill. Recipe adapted from Sunset magazine.

About 9 ounces chocolate wafer cookies, broken into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 cup melted butter

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

1 pound mascarpone or cream cheese

1/3 cup honey

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups strawberries

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place cookies in a 1-quart zip-lock plastic bag and seal. With a rolling pin, crush cookies into fine crumbs. Or pulse grind in a food processor. Pour 2 cups of the crumbs into a bowl and mix with melted butter, sugar, and espresso powder. Press mixture evenly into bottom and up sides of a 10-inch tart pan with removable rim.

In another bowl, with a mixer on medium, beat mascarpone, honey, and vanilla until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in flour and salt.

Place tart pan in a 12-by-16-inch rimmed baking pan and set on center rack of preheated oven. Pour filling into chocolate crust. Bake until filling is pale golden and barely set in the center when you gently shake pan, 30 to 35 minutes.

Remove tart from oven, sprinkle with remaining crumbs, if desired, and let cool on a rack about 30 minutes, then chill until cold, at least 1 hour, or up to 1 day (cover tart once cold).

Shortly before serving, remove rim from pan. Rinse, stem, and thinly slice strawberries. Arrange in a circular or spiral pattern on top of the tart, overlapping slices slightly. Serves 12.

Per serving: 388 calories; 28 g fat (17 g saturated fat; 65 percent calories from fat); 30 g carbohydrates; 18 g sugar; 88 mg cholesterol; 279 mg sodium; 5.4 g protein; 1.5 g fiber.

Strawberries are a sweet reminder of what's great about summer. You've probably purchased them pre-packaged from groceries or farm markets this past winter and early spring, but somehow the fruit tastes better when you've picked it in season yourself.

Following is a list of farms in the metro area that currently have u-pick strawberries. Store hours change daily depending on availability and weather conditions, so call before making the journey.

LIVINGSTON COUNTY

DeGroot's Strawberries, 4232 Bull Run, Gregory, 48137, (517) 223-3508 or (517) 223-9311, degrootsstrawberries.com. 9 a.m.-8 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays.

Spicer Orchards, 10411 Clyde, Fenton, 48430, (810) 632-7692, spicerorchards.com. 8 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.

MACOMB COUNTY

Blake's Orchard & Cider Mill, 17985 Armada Center, Armada, 48005, (586) 784-5343, blakefarms.com. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Verellen Orchards, 63260 Van Dyke, Washington Township, 48095, (586) 752-2989, verellenorchards.com. 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

Westview Orchards & Adventure Farm, 65075 Van Dyke, Washington Township, 48095, (586) 752-3123, westvieworchards.com. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

MONROE COUNTY

Whittaker's Berry Farm, 6724 Todd, Ida, 48140, (734) 269-6612,whittakersberryfarm.com. 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

OAKLAND COUNTY

Middleton Berry Farm, 4790 Oakwood, Ortonville, 48462, (248) 831-1004, middletonberryfarm.com. 4:30-7:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, 7:30-11:30 a.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays and Sundays.

WASHTENAW COUNTY

Donahee Farms, 6055 Tower, Plymouth, 48170, (734) 459-0655, donaheefarms.com. 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.

Rowe's Produce Farm, 10570 Martz, Ypsilanti, (734) 482-8538, facebook.com/rowesproduce.farm. 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.

Compiled by Alesia Cooper

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