We’ve been relishing the cooler weather along the Front Range these past few weeks. Usually a brown and yellow high desert landscape come August, the return of brief afternoon and evening rain showers has reinvigorated plants and made me thankful I’ve undertaken landscaping and gardening projects on our property this year without the usual stress of acute drought and sporadic, damaging hail storms that had me throwing in the towel long before August arrived in summers pasts.
Better growing conditions and Cameron’s vigilance with smart watering has allowed our garden to flourish this year. We’re now harvesting zucchini, jalapeños, tomatoes, and cabbage and recently planted our fall garden seeds for carrots, bush beans, mesclun lettuce, bok choy, and arugula. I moved here six years ago with strong reservations about making Colorado home, but I’m finally beginning to feel connected to this place and am excited about pursuing gardening in less-than-ideal climate and geographic conditions. Highly alkaline clay soil, intense sunlight, low rainfall, extreme temperature fluctuation, hail storms, and unpredictable punk squirrels, I’m ready to rumble.
By next spring I’m hoping I’ll have devised a foolproof method to grow strawberries in volatile squirrel country. Two summers ago, a gang of squirrels tore apart my dreams of a homegrown strawberry patch by digging up the roots of every strawberry plant I lovingly transplanted into our garden. While I entertained creative ways to deter these fluffy-tailed rodents (assassination, trap and relocate, spraying the entire yard with ghost pepper-infused water, tracking down the old woman in the neighborhood who apparently decided she would domesticate the squirrels by feeding them peanuts and table scraps), ultimately I settled on giving the furry jerks stink eye whenever I spotted them scampering along the property line while I wallowed in Colorado gardening despair.
I’ve since learned of some pest-proofing strategies to deter rifling paws and impulsive plant and fruit nibbling and am gunning to experiment with ways to ward off unwanted garden visitors next spring. Until then I’ve been taking advantage of berry sales at my neighborhood grocery store to get my strawberry fix. A few weeks ago, I scored a couple pounds of fresh strawberries and decided to try out an easy way to extend berry snacking at our house.
Below you’ll find a great strawberry preservation technique featured in a recent issue of Bon Appétit. By slowly drying strawberries in the oven at a low temperature, you wind up with a small container of chewy, intensely flavored berries that can be added to baked goods, yogurt, and cereal or eaten out of hand without the ticking clock of berry mold that comes too soon for these delicate-skinned fruit.
a Bon Appétit technique
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
– 1 lb strawberries, hulled, halved, quartered if large
– 2 TBS raw sugar or granulated sugar
1. Toss strawberries and sugar in a large bowl and let sit until berries start to release their juices, 25–30 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 185 degrees F (or the lowest possible setting, which may be 200°).
3. Spread out berries on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a nonstick baking mat and bake, rotating baking sheet about every 30 minutes, until berries are darkened in color and dried out around the edges but still slightly juicy in the center, 3–3½ hours.
4. Let cool on baking sheet. Then eat and/or store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.