For a few fleeting weeks in March, April and May, Louisiana strawberries ripen and are at their peak. You can find these luscious berries in local grocery stores and farmers markets. What is so special about Louisiana strawberries? I compare them to vine ripened tomatoes versus those which have been grown to travel long distances to markets. Louisiana strawberries are sweet, juicy and aromatic. They are picked when ripe; hence they are perishable and really are not suitable for transport to far away markets. Today I am enjoying these strawberries in a salad along with fresh bibb lettuce that I grew in my garden. I added feta cheese for flavor and nutrition, sliced almonds for crunch and served my salad with a Sweet Apple Cider Vinaigrette.
Strawberries are perhaps one of Louisiana’s best kept “secrets.” Who would believe that strawberries are grown here commercially. But historically, strawberries have made an important contribution to Louisiana agriculture. The commercial Louisiana strawberry industry began in the late 1880’s when a wave of Italian and Hungarian migration came the fertile land north of Lake Pontchartrain. Looking for an industry which could support them during the warmer months, the immigrants began to grow strawberries. Once picked, the strawberries were placed in box cars and were transported by train in the thriving rail industry to northern cities. Chicago is actually a straight shot north of the city of Ponchatoula (the strawberry “capital” of Louisiana). And the Amtrak train still runs this route daily. As of 1924, farmers planted more than 14,000 acres of strawberries.
The peak strawberry production was in 1931. But since that decade, Louisiana strawberry production has declined. Aging farmers, high labor costs and marketing logistics have contributed to the downward trend. Strawberries are still grown and harvested by local famers but the strawberries are sold locally. This industry supported a generation of immigrants; but times have changed. I will enjoy this “local produce” while I can.
In addition to their great taste, strawberries are very nutritious. They are rich in Vitamin C and also contain folic acid, potassium, antioxidants and fiber. This is a good fruit to include in meals (regardless of where the strawberries were grown).
A fun fact about strawberries is that the fruit continues to ripen even after the first fruit are picked. This means that several pickings a week may be needed. Towards the end of the growing season, strawberry farmers often open their fields for “pick-yourself” outings. Years ago, our Cajun neighbors took us to one of these fields. My two-year-old son had quite the time running up and down the rows smashing strawberries with his feet while we madly looked for the ripe, large strawberries hiding under the leaves. What an adventure on that hot May day!
Louisiana Strawberry and Bibb Lettuce Salad
The second main component of my salad is bibb lettuce which I grew in my garden this spring along with kale, pak choi and mustard greens. These leafy salad greens are easy to grow from seeds. They all sprouted! Yeah. I transplanted some of the small plants and now have several rows of the greens. That means that they must quickly be used before the spring pests arrive. Lots of salads!
Bibb lettuce also provides nutritional value. It is very high in Vitamin A-precursor and also contains potassium and Vitamin K. Of course, it is low in calories.
Sometimes simple is better, and this case, the flavors of the ingredients — strawberries and feta cheese — are strong enough that you don’t need many other flavor components in this salad. I added green onions (as I always like onions in salads) and slivered almonds for crunch.
Since I wanted the flavors of the strawberries and lettuce to shine, I made a simple, mild vinaigrette to go along with my salad. I added sugar to the dressing for sweetness and used apple cider vinegar. I added celery seed and dry mustard powder for a little punch. This is really a modified poppy seed dressing and is one of my favorite dressings. (Aren’t they all my favorites?)
To make the dressing, whisk (or blend with small food processor) together all the ingredients except the oil. Then slowly pour in the oil and blend. I like to add the dressing directly to the bibb lettuce/green onions and toss — I seem to use less dressing this way — and then sprinkle on the strawberries, feta cheese and almonds. Store extra dressing in the refrigerator — shake to recombine layers.
This such a quick and easy salad to prepare. It is nutritious and tasty and it is a good way to include local produce in meals. Here’s to Louisiana strawberries while they last!
Ripe Strawberry & Bibb Lettuce Salad
- 8 cups bibb lettuce
- 2 cups ripe strawberries
- 2 green onions, whites and parts of greens, stemmed
- Apple Cider Vinaigrette Dressing
- 1/2 cup garlic and herb feta cheese, crumbled
- sliced almonds
Instructions and Steps:
- Carefully wash each individual bibb lettuce piece, drain. Tear into bite size pieces and place in salad bowl.
- Wash, stem and drain strawberries, cut large strawberries in half.
- Carefully mix strawberries and green onions in with bibb salad greens.
- Pour apple cider vinaigrette dressing over greens and carefully toss to combine.
- Sprinkle feta cheese and sliced almonds over top of salad.
Apple Cider Vinaigrette
Ingredients for salad::
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp celery seed
- 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
- 1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
Method and Steps:
- Add apple cider vinegar to small bowl. (Alternatively, add to small bowl of mini-food processor.)
- Add sugar, salt, celery seed and dry mustard powder. Whisk to combine. (Or pulse several times with food processor.)
- Slowly stream in canola oil, whisking constantly to combine. (Or stream in canola oil with food processor running.)
- When ready to use, whisk or shake to combine layers. Pour over salad. Store remainder of dressing in container with tight-fitting lid in refrigerator. Bring to room temperature prior to serving and shake to recombine layers.