Easy Strawberry Trifle

Chocolate and strawberries are traditional Valentine’s Day desserts, so here’s an easy strawberry trifle to make if you are craving something light, fruity and not too sweet – and it’s much better than my low-fat chocolate brownie disaster.  As an added plus, it’s not so much made as assembled, requiring only three ingredients, cake, instant custard and strawberries.

Strawberry trifle

Grocery store strawberries are not so good this time of year in Canada, so I mixed them with some strawberry freezer jam from last summer.   (Click here for blog link).   As I use No Sugar Pectin in my freezer jam, it’s more of a strawberry puree than a sweet jam, but you can also mush up the strawberries and add sugar to taste.   

Strawberries For the cake you can use those mini golden cakes from the grocery store or angel food cake, but I had some leftover cake which had been in the freezer for awhile but when thawed it was just as fresh as the day I made it. 

The last time I made this dessert I used French vanilla pudding cups, but this time I decided to use the more traditional custard.   I bought a package of instant custard from The British Shop, a brand recommended by the owner as I figured the British must know their custards (she also told me last year the shop spent $20,000 on import fees).Custard

Just add 360ml of BOILING Water and stir for a minute and Voila – a nice and creamy custard.   (Next time I might add a teaspoon of Vanilla extract as it was fairly bland). 

As I’ve just spent a fairly productive week cleaning out the basement storage areas and reorganizing things, including some old family heirlooms and crystal, I decided to use my  grandmother’s parfait glasses.   

Crystal glasses

I never met my grandmother as my dad’s parents both died before I was born, but I’ve often wondered what her life was like.   She married in 1919 and as an older mom had her kids at 37, 40 and 41 and died fairly young at age 65, after breaking a hip.   So it’s possible these glasses are a hundred years old – maybe they were part of her wedding trousseau?   My mother said they were in the old farmhouse when she got married in 1952.    Or they may even have been from my great grandmother Ellen farther back in 1900, part of a  collection of crystal from the Edwardian age, of which I have several pieces.   I remember my mother using the matching glasses at family dinners along with her good china, but they are so thin and delicate they require hand-washing.   There are only seven parfait glasses left, plus two with small handles which look like they might be hot toddy glasses.   Anyway, I felt they deserved an outing sometime this century!

I crumbled the cake in the bottom, then layered the strawberries and custard, then cake again (I could have used more cake), custard and more strawberries on top.   You can also garnish with whipped cream and a strawberry, but I ran out of room.      

Strawberry trifle

The parfait glasses seem tiny, so I suspect portion sizes were smaller back in the days of Downton Abbey.    The same with plates – compare this new red Rachel Ray plate to the older pink plate from the thrift shop.    

Pink and red plates

The same with supersized restaurant plates.   While it’s customary to want to fill your plate, maybe that isn’t such a good idea anymore? 

This makes a nice light dessert after a big meal.   There’s something to be said for moderation and family tradition, and strawberries in the middle of winter!  

Happy Valentine’s Day!

PS.  For those of you who are mad for plaid like I am, the plaid charger plates are from Michael’s craft store, after Christmas sale – $1.50 each vs regular $8.        (600 words) 

Pink plates and Valendtine's Day

Strawberries, Snakes and Jane Austen

Strawberries

It’s strawberry season again, but this year seems to be a washout.  Blame it on the rain and the lack of sunny days.  The local berries are just coming in but they are so sour I’ve decided to wait a week hoping we’ll get some sunnier weather.   The kitchen reno is still ongoing so I can’t bake a shortcake or make jam anyway. 

strawberry plant

For every one sweet one ripening in my little garden plot, there are two that make your mouth pucker.   Maybe that’s why the birds are leaving them alone?  And here I thought those plastic snakes I bought at the dollar store were working!    

snakes

This was a tip from another blogger last summer, as plastic snakes are supposed to act as a deterrent to the birds.   Walmart was out of snakes, so these are cheaper versions from Dollarama and the clerk told me they work so well they can’t keep them in stock.   They look more like skinny worms to me – and neon pink and blue?    Those birds must be color blind, but upon further research it appears birds have better visual acuity than humans and can see UV light and a wider range of colors.   I suspect they must be waiting for sweeter fare too.  

So I’ll leave you with a link to better days and last year’s blog, Strawberry Fields Forever, plus some Jane Austen.  

Strawberry Field

Rhubarb Lunar Coffee Cake

Rhubarb

“Mission Control to Earthlings:  Volunteers needed to test Lunar Cake recipe.  Only rhubarb lovers need apply.”       

Rhubarb is one of those foods you either love or hate.   I never liked rhubarb until a few years ago, but then my entire culinary experience consisted of a very tart rhubarb pie my mother would make for my dad once a year.   We had a big rhubarb patch on the farm, and no matter how much sugar she used in the pie, it was so sour no one else would eat it.   The rhubarb patch was rectangular in size and was beside a row of red currant bushes, with one black currant and one gooseberry bush at each end.   Behind it, the odd spike of asparagus would appear in the early spring, these all being old-fashioned farm staples from a century ago.  Today they would be considered heirloom varieties.   Once established, those old rhubarb patches would live forever.   I would sometimes volunteer to pick the red currants, as my dad would get his very own red current pie too.   In retrospect those pies must have been something his mother had made, nostalgic reminders of childhood.   We just thought they were sour.

Rhubarb patch (6)

Because the patch was so large and prolific and had been there for many years, people from town would stop by and ask if they could buy some.   If you are a rhubarb-lover you always know where a good patch is.   We would see the same people year after year, so one day we kids had the ingenious idea that we would have a roadside stand and sell bundles of rhubarb for 25 cents –  a country version of a lemonade stand. 

The rhubarb stand lasted all of one Sunday afternoon.  There was little traffic on our dusty country road and we soon grew bored laying on a blanket under the big tree out front.    On the rare occasion someone did stop, we would run to the house to get our parents, because we had been drilled in school not to talk to strangers, even those innocent souls out for a Sunday drive.   (Makes sense right, well in the mind of a child).   I think we grossed 75 cents.  

rhubarb and dogs (5)

Luckily we had our guard dogs to protect us and the rhubarb patch!

Now as an adult, count me in as a rhubarb fan too.   I especially love strawberry-rhubarb jam, rhubarb scones, and most recently a rhubarb coffee cake, which I’ve made the past few years from a recipe a dietitian friend gave me.    This Canadian recipe is called Lunar Rhubarb Cake and was developed by an editor of Canadian Living magazine back in the 1980’s.   It was so good, it went viral before viral even existed, with everyone saying they got it from their mother, aunt, neighbor.   (A recipe which promotes sharing like that, is one small step for food-kindness).    According to the food column in the Ottawa Citizen, the name lunar comes from the appearance of the top of the cake, similar to the crater-like surface of the moon.   

Rhubarb

CAKE INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup butter (softened)

1 1/2 cup white sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups flour    

1 Tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup sour cream (you can use 2% if you wish)

2 cups chopped rhubarb (you can increase by 1/2 cup more if you wish)

1 tbsp. floor  

LUNAR TOPPING:

1/4 cup butter (melted)

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon  (I omitted this, as in my opinion cinnamon goes with apple pie, not rhubarb)

DIRECTIONS:   

Chop the rhubarb and toss with 1 tbsp flour.   Cream the butter and sugar.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.   Mix 2 cups flour, soda and salt together.  (I buy the premixed flour with the baking soda and salt already in it which is more expensive but saves measuring).   Alternatively add the flour mixture and sour cream to the creamed mixture.   Add the rhubarb to the batter.    Pour into a buttered 9 X 13 inch cake pan.    Mix the topping ingredients and spread evenly over the top of the cake.   Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, until the top is pitted and crusty and a skewer comes out clean.    (It was 15 minutes longer for me, as my oven always cooks slow).    Recipe serves twelve hungry astronauts.

Some versions of this recipe call for buttermilk or sour milk instead of sour cream.   The batter will be quite thick with the sour cream.  Rhubarb

The cake keeps well in the fridge and was incredibly moist even after a week.  It transports well too, should you wish to take it to a party in another galaxy.  I think it would work well with blueberries when the season arrives, because as we all know rhubarb season is way too short!     

Maybe if my mother’s old-fashioned rhubarb pie had a crumble topping we might have eaten it too, as the sweetness balances out the tartness of the rhubarb, similar to the popular combination of strawberries and rhubarb.  Although I’m not a huge fan of strawberry-rhubarb pie, mostly because of the pastry, I have made a compote by stewing equal parts of rhubarb and strawberries on the stove and adding sugar to taste.    It’s nice mixed with vanilla yogurt or ice cream or just eaten plain. 

Strawberry-rhubarb compote

I’ve been envisioning my own rhubarb patch in the backyard, so I bought home this last week, although it’s been too cold to plant it.   Rhubarb plant

Although eaten as a fruit, rhubarb is actually a vegetable.   While the stalks may be edible, the leaves are toxic to humans and animals due to a high concentration of the poison, oxalic acid.   It is a perennial which likes cooler climates.   Plant in full sun, spacing 3 or 4 feet apart in a row.    Patience is required as you can’t harvest the first few years until established.   Newer varieties last about 15 years.   You can also divide existing rhubarb plants (root balls) in early spring, so I might be on the hunt for an old patch down a country lane….

Flash forward to 2025 – mission accomplished….hopefully? 

Rhubarb   

 

 

  

 

 

Strawberry Fields Forever

  StrawberriesStrawberry fields forever.   It sounds like a strawberry lover’s dream, but fortunately the science of greenhouse genetics has come up with a new strain of strawberry plant which bears fruit for four months – June, July, August and September.   Last year I planted two of these ever-bearing varieties which produced enough berries all summer to garnish a salad,

salad on plate
Mandarin salad with raspberry vinaigrette

and provide the odd nibble, both for me and the birds. 

Strawberries

I think the birds feasted, whereas I was more like Emma of Jane Austen fame, the pleasure was in the anticipation.   (see literary postscript below

Although the farmers markets are now full of gorgeous red berries,  Market Strawberries there is a certain satisfaction to be had in growing your own or in visiting a farm to pick your own fruit, plus it is certainly cheaper.    The farm outside town sells quarts for $6 versus $2.50 to pick your own, a significant savings if you are buying enough to make jam or freeze.  

Strawberry Field

       I remember going strawberry picking when I was a teenager, (long past the age when helping out was fun), and then spending a couple of hours at the kitchen table hulling the stems before my mother would place them in freezer bags.   We always had a long freezer at one end of the farmhouse kitchen, a freezer so vast and deep that if you tried to get to the bottom of it to find the last roast or bag of corn you might topple in.  Every summer those berries would go in the freezer and the next summer they would get thrown away.   I remember my mother making a strawberry shortcake in the winter exactly once and nobody liked it because the berries were soggy, but there is a vast difference between fresh and frozen soggy.    

        Our farmhouse strawberry shortcake was not like any of those anemic-looking store-bought cakes or biscuits garnished with a few berries.   My mother would start with a golden cake mix, (never white), baked in a long glass pan, and then crush a big bowl of berries (leaving some whole) with a bit of water using a potato masher, adding sugar to taste.  

When it was served you would cut your own size of cake, crumble it up, and then the bowl was passed around with a big spoon and you would ladle on a generous portion, certainly enough to make the cake soggy and wet with berries and juice.  Whipped cream was optional.   I still make my strawberry shortcake this way.   Guests who were not used to this old-fashioned version might find it a bit odd but in retrospect it was more like a trifle.

     I had a wonderful homemade strawberry trifle last week at a church dinner and nothing beats homemade, but if you want a quick alternative just layer the leftover cake and berries with store-bought vanilla pudding cups (instead of custard) and garnish with whipped cream (from a can but scratch would be divine).    It makes a nice easy desert plus it gives me an excuse to use my Downton Abbey thrift shop crystal goblets. 

Strawberry Trifle

Strawberry Trifle

I made a non-alcoholic and an alcoholic version, adding some brandy to the bottom layer of cake to make it soggy, and it was very good indeed.  

Strawberry Jam

      Last summer I made strawberry freezer jam for the first time (as part of my Jamfest frenzy), and into the freezer it went, where it still resides and will soon be thrown out……it must be genetic!    

       I am trying to be more conscious of food wastage, as studies show we throw out a quarter of the food we buy, but a fresh strawberry is such a wonderful thing and the season so short I think we can be forgiven for being extravagant in our stock-piling.  StrawberriesIs there really any comparison between a fresh picked berry and those berries the grocery stores pass off as the real thing the rest of the year – tart, tasteless and hard and pulpy inside to withstand shipping.        

      Still on the rare occasion I need jam for scones I can easily buy a good brand of strawberry-rhubarb jam from my friend’s shop.  strawberry rhubarb jam

       I did however make a fresh stewed strawberry-rhubarb preserve this year,Strawberry-rhubarb compote

equal cups of strawberries and rhubarb, with a tiny bit of water plus sugar to  taste, cooked down to a soft texture on medium heat, which I keep in the fridge and mix with vanilla Greek yogurt, because with all the varieties of yogurt available why don’t they make a strawberry-rhubarb flavor.   

Literary postscript:  Jane Austen’s Emma wherein Mr. Knightley has issued an invitation to Donwell Abbey, “Come and eat my strawberries: they are ripening fast.”…..”Mrs. Elton, in all her apparatus of happiness, her large bonnet and her basket, was very ready to lead the way in gathering, accepting, or talking — strawberries, and only strawberries, could now be thought or spoken of. — “The best fruit in England — every body’s favourite — always wholesome. These the finest beds and finest sorts. — Delightful to gather for one’s self — the only way of really enjoying them. Morning decidedly the best time — never tired — every sort good — hautboy infinitely superior — no comparison — the others hardly eatable — hautboys very scarce — Chili preferred — white wood finest flavour of all — price of strawberries in London — abundance about Bristol — Maple Grove — cultivation — beds when to be renewed — gardeners thinking exactly different — no general rule — gardeners never to be put out of their way — delicious fruit — only too rich to be eaten much of — inferior to cherries — currants more refreshing — only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping — glaring sun — tired to death — could bear it no longer — must go and sit in the shade.”

My sentiments exactly.   34 C today or 40 with the Humidex….Strawberry Field