In pursuit of flavor: Shuksan Strawberries

With a brief blink-and- you-miss-them growing season and a composition so fragile, berries picked that day include instructions: “use them before sundown,” by all conventional standards, Shuksans are the prima donna of the strawberry world.  

Accustomed to flavorless Californian strawberries, my first reaction to Shuksans left me wondering, “What’s wrong with these berries?”  

Flavor guru, Jon Rowley, was quick to set me straight. “The question is, ‘What’s right with these berries?’ “

Boasting a pure ‘strawberry’ aroma and a heady, full-bodied flavor, that first bite of a Shuksan strawberry redefined what a strawberry was meant to be. 

Shuksan strawberry’s buxom, shiny exterior gives way to a luscious flesh that’s deep red to the core. Their natural sugar content is so high, overnight, they practically macerate in their own juices--hence the advice to “use them by sundown”.

Because of their fragile nature, Shuksans were a long-time secret known only to gardeners and commercial accounts. (Häagen-Daz claims most of the commercially-available harvest.) 

In recent years, word has spread quickly among chefs and writers, and a seasonal fever pitch on par with the California gold rush has driven up demand. While they may be in short supply, diligent Shuksan-lovers know: they are worth the hunt. 

Get yours:

When are Shuksan strawberries in season? 
In the Pacific Northwest, Shuksans have a brief 3-week harvest cycle and weather-pending, typically bear fruit in June.

Where do you find Shuksan strawberries in Seattle? 

1. Some farmers markets

2. Skagit Sun farm stand (Flooring America parking lot: 3605 NE 45th Street, 11 am - 6 pm, daily)

3. Thulen Farm u-pick: join Jon Rowley, dubbed by Saveur magazine as “America’s disciple of flavor,” for the Ultimate Northwest Strawberry Experience 

4. Or better yet, grow your own.

I Have Never...

My dad was born with a heavy dose of hootspa. He dropped out of high school, lied about his age, and joined the military at 16 years old. A bulk of his time was spent stationed in Hawaii. While most people associate Hawaii with beaches and year-round balmy weather, my dad was quick to say, "It's perfect weather for brewing beer!"

Four years later, he was just 20 years old when his military service was over, and he was ready for adventure. My childhood was peppered with his stories. My dad would slip in an anecdote about driving to Alaska. "Back then, there were no paved roads." Potholes and flying gravel figure prominently in the retelling.

Somewhere along that same timeline, my dad rode a motorcycle from Michigan to Florida. Lacking proper gear, they wrapped themselves in newspaper, then dressed in multiple layers. "When a bug hits you at 60 miles an hour, it leaves a welt...and hurts like hell."

As family and other responsibilities came along, my dad instilled that spirit in his kids. On long family road trips, he thought nothing of stopping at a farm so I could get a look at the horses, explaining to the owners, "My daughter is crazy about horses." And on a good day, he'd secretly slip the farmer $20 in exchange for a ride.

In our world, wandering...and wondering were highly encouraged. There was no such thing as a stranger, and we lived by his mantra, "Listen. You might learn something."

My dad constantly challenged us to try new things. "Have you ever caught a fish? No? Let's go see if we can."

In my own life, there's an ongoing dialog that begins with the phrase, "I have never....". I wake up in the middle of the night, bolting out of bed. "I have never...made a croquenmbouche!" Or, "I have never ridden in a helicopter. I bet it's like scuba the air!"

When Mike died, I lost my way.

Healing involved a lot of tears, copious amounts of wine, and more than a few worn out journals. The breakthrough began with going back to the basics, and building a list. "I have never...."

Though there were days when I felt quite numb, I started chipping away at that list:

I have never...made tamales.
I have never...made pate.*
I have never...made sausage.

Pate? I was stuck on repeat. After the 6th pate recipe, my roommate was kind enough to point out, "You don't even LIKE pate. Why do you keep trying new recipes?" Well, that's not true. I like the first recipe I ever made...and was completely thrilled with it. Why did I keep trying other recipes? I'm not quite sure. At the time, it felt constructive, "I can do this."

Looking back, I realize just how empowering that phrase is. "I have never...." We all have our own Mt. Everest. For some, it's a mountain. For others it's a hill. But it's still there. "I have never...." acknowledges the beginner in all of us, and allows for a freedom from the pervasive "perfection" mentality.

"I have never...boiled an egg."

My next response?

"Great! Let's get started...."

"I have never..." has been the catalyst for my greatest adventures. And today, I'm building a new list. What's on yours?