Farm Progress

What’s Cooking in Illinois: Combine strawberries with pork chops for supper.

Charlyn Fargo Ware

June 20, 2018

3 Min Read
RED GEMS: Brussels berry farmer Sandy Odelehr’s favorite way to eat a strawberry? Freshly picked from the patch. No whipped cream needed.

Mention “strawberries” and Sandy Odelehr gets excited. As part of Odelehrs Roadside Market, based in Brussels, Ill., she’s overwhelmed with the heart-shaped beauties this time of year.

They’ve been in business eight years, but this is the first year they will sell their berries at six farmers markets: Springfield, Jacksonville, Lincoln and Edwardsville in west-central Illinois, and Creve Coeur and Lake St. Louis in Missouri.

“It’s a late season this year,” she says. “They didn’t bloom until late, and then we had a 5-inch rain on them.”

She’s adamant that Illinois berries are sweeter, more flavorful and downright tastier than any others (like a home-grown tomato vs. store-bought), and a big reason is because they’re picked at the peak time.

“If you ship a berry, you have to pick it green,” Odelehr says. “Illinois is a good place to raise strawberries, as long as you get enough straw on them and keep them off the ground. A lot of berry farmers use plastic and pull the plants up every year, but we keep them from year to year using the straw.”

The family’s home market is in Brussels, where they also sell peaches, asparagus and pumpkin, as well as other fruits and vegetables, and items like cider, pies, strawberry bread or their often-requested strawberry-jalapeno jelly. (Spread it over cream cheese and serve with crackers for a wonderful appetizer, she says.)

The Odelehrs are expanding the business with a new kitchen on-site where they will make jellies, jams, pies, apple butter and breads.

Strawberries extend their season. “We really only stop December, January and February; then we start planting in March,” Odeleher says. “This year we planted 11,000 more plants than last year. In-season, we’ll work six or seven days a week, but it’s what we love.”

High school students help pick fruit as well as some migrant workers, and others help sort the berries. No. 1 berries are perfect; No.2 berries are misshapen; and No.3 berries are softer, ready to make into jam or her favorite strawberry-rhubarb pie.

The good stuff
Strawberries are red gems when it comes to their nutrition. Packed with vitamins, fiber and high levels of antioxidants known as polyphenols, strawberries are a sodium-free, fat-free, cholesterol-free, low-calorie food. They are among the top 20 fruits in antioxidant capacity and are a good source of manganese and potassium. Just one serving — about eight strawberries — provides more vitamin C than an orange.

First cultivated in ancient Rome, strawberries are now the most popular berry fruit in the world. In provincial France, they were regarded as an aphrodisiac. It has been used in stories, literature and paintings through the ages. The strawberry was a symbol for Venus, the goddess of love, because of its heart shape and red color.

In Othello, Shakespeare decorated Desdemonda’s handkerchief with symbolic strawberries. And the American Indians were already eating strawberries when the colonists arrived. The crushed berries were mixed with cornmeal and baked into strawberry bread. After trying this bread, colonists developed their own version of the recipe, and strawberry shortcake was created.

You probably have a recipe for strawberry shortcake or a strawberry salad, so my co-worker helped me come up with this recipe for Pecan-Encrusted Pork Chops with a Strawberry Thyme Glaze. My family gave it a thumbs-up. I hope yours does as well.

Pecan-Encrusted Pork Chops With Strawberry Thyme Glaze
4 boneless pork chops
½ cup flour — rice or Wondra preferred
1 egg white, beaten
½ cup pecans, finely chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup strawberries, hulled and halved
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
2 tablespoons sugar

Dip chops in flour, then egg white and then pecans. Add olive oil to a pan large enough for the chops. Sear 1 to 2 minutes over high heat; then place in an oven-safe dish sprayed with cooking spray. Place in a 350-degree-F oven for 30 to 45 minutes, until chops reach 145 degrees (time depends on thickness of chops).

Meanwhile, as the chops near completion, in another small pan, heat halved strawberries. Add thyme and sugar. Cook until glaze starts to thicken. Pour over chops just before serving.

Fargo is a dietitian for Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill. Send recipe ideas to her at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Charlyn Fargo Ware

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with Southern Illinois University Medical School in Springfield, Ill. Email recipe ideas to her at [email protected].

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