During strawberry season at the farmers’ market, I overhear many customers recount their childhood memories of berry-picking. As their gazes dance across the crimson-filled quarts, the nostalgia of summers past becomes as noticeable in the air as the aroma of the berries themselves. For a moment I forget the pulsing ache in my back and knees after a marathon six-hour harvesting session the day before, and remember that in six months I will crave the taste of that first June berry again, soft and sweet and warm from the sun.
Food memories reign over us; their influence is undeniable. A strawberry is an edible teleportation device with the power to transport us back in time to very specific and significant moments in our lives. Food memories, however, are very different from flavor memories. When as an adults we eat something we enjoyed as children, only to discover it tastes nothing like how we remember it, the experience is evidence of the fickle nature of flavor memory. The flavors that shaped our young palettes become shadows of their former selves; what was once buried treasure at the bottom of a lunch box is now a nightmarish concoction of corn syrup and numbered food dye.
I am referring specifically to the strawberry syrup of my youth. That trusty squeeze bottle had a home in the refrigerator door, always upside down and always mangled and misshapen from daily wringing. I remember vividly its chemical intensity - the bright, unnaturally red, almost neon value. I adored the ritual, which began by plucking a tall glass from the cabinet, retrieving a long, slender iced tea spoon from the drawer, then heaving the heavy gallon of cold skim milk from the fridge to the counter. When the milk was successfully transferred from gallon to glass, a stream of strawberry syrup ensued, followed by the hypnotic swirl of milk and manufactured flavor, slowly cycloning into pink homogeny.
Flavored milk is still (miraculously) appealing to me, and I think it’s safe to say that I am not the only one. But I do myself a favor now, skip the squeeze bottle and go for something a little fresher. I rediscovered this recipe for strawberry milk in Gabrielle Hamilton’s cookbook, Prune, over the winter and waited patiently for strawberry season to make it. And even though it is nothing like the strawberry milk of my youth, a single sip takes me right back to Blockbuster video nights, losing sleep over Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and forgetting to feed my Tamagotchi. Even if you are not a child of the 90’s, the feeling of nostalgia is still familiar and undeniably satisfying.
Makes 4 servings
Barely adapted from Gabrielle Hamilton
1 pound (about 1 quart) strawberries
3 cups whole milk
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sugar
Hull and halve or quarter the strawberries then toss them with the sugar. Let the berries macerate for 1 hour until they are very syrupy. Crush up the berries even more with the back of a fork or a potato masher, then add the milks to the berry mixture. Cover and let it steep overnight.
When ready to serve, add the mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Serve immediately.