Around Easter, Emily Cookson starts yearning for strawberries (this year’s season is projected to run from April to June). Like many Lowcountry residents, Cookson—who departs Charleston Grill this month for a new role at Butcher & Bee—gets her fragrant heart-shaped fruit from Boone Hall Plantation and Ambrose Family Farm, two of the area’s largest producers and biggest pick-your-own establishments. “I like smaller strawberries, and theirs usually are,” explains Cookson. “I feel like smaller strawberries have a more intense, concentrated flavor.”
Cookson uses some of her strawberry haul to make delicate half-inch mini shortcakes with cornmeal biscuits. The biscuits’ crumbly nature contrasts with light whipped cream and makes them perfect for soaking up the macerated fruit.
Her next treat, a strawberry tart, may look textbook classic, but Cookson elevates it by perfuming the pastry cream with orange blossom water (“It’s lovely and floral,” she says) and enriching the cream with goat cheese. “The tart’s a great ending to a meal on a warm spring afternoon,” she adds.
As for frozen fare, no snack bar strawberry ice cream for Cookson. Instead, she roasts her berries with vanilla, salt, and brown sugar, giving them what she calls an “almost cooked fruit ‘cobbleriness,’” before blending them into ice cream.
To store strawberries in the refrigerator, Cookson advises you spread them out—unwashed with tops on—in a single layer. If you want to stock up while the local getting is good, she says freezing is best. To do so, wash the berries, remove their tops, spread them in single layers on baking sheets, and place them in the freezer. Once they’re frozen solid, package the strawberries in plastic freezer bags, which retain less air than containers.
Dishing It Up with Chef Emily Cookson
Restaurant: Formerly the pastry chef at Charleston Grill, Cookson will step into a new role at Butcher & Bee this month.
Education: Furman University (English) and Johnson & Wales (baking and pastry)
Recipe You’ll Never Share: “I share ’em all!”
Factoid From Her Strawberry Files: “A few years ago, there were local strawberries at the end of January. It was crazy early!”