Stepping Out

Ripe for the picking

Day-tripping in the nearby strawberry fields

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It’s time to think red — as in strawberries. Those succulent, just ripened berries command attention right now. So get everyone together and usher in the summer season by venturing out to one of the many pick-your-won farms for some time in the berry patch.

Always call before you head out, as fields get crowded quickly. A large turnout can pick a field clean before noon, so be sure to check first. Hours can also vary depending upon the weather.

Then when you return home, resist the temptation to eat up all these luscious gems and prepare some delectable treats. Find inspiration with these recipes.

Classic Strawberry Shortcake

For the shortcake:

1 2⁄3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

3⁄4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoon (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

3⁄4 cup buttermilk

1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the strawberries:

4 cups strawberries, hulled and cut into slices 1/4 inch thick

1⁄4 cup sugar

3/4 cup heavy cream, well chilled

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the shortcakes, preheat an oven to 400° F.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest and salt until well blended. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the pieces are no larger than peas.

Add the buttermilk and vanilla and gently toss with a fork or rubber spatula until the flour is just moistened and the ingredients are blended.

Turn the shaggy dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently press the dough into a thick rectangle about 6 by 4 inches. Using a large sharp knife, trim the edges even, then cut the dough into 6 equal squares.

Place the squares on an ungreased baking sheet, spacing them well apart. Bake until they are puffed and golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly or completely.

Meanwhile, prepare the strawberries: In a bowl, toss together the strawberries and sugar with a fork, lightly crushing some of the berries. Cover the berries and refrigerate until well chilled or until ready to serve.

For the whipped cream, combine the cream, sugar and vanilla in a deep bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form and the cream is billowy, about 2 minutes. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve or for up to 2 hours.

To serve, split the warm or cooled shortcakes in half horizontally and place the bottom halves, cut side up, on serving plates. Spoon some of the strawberries, including the juices, over each half and top with a dollop of the whipped cream. Top with the remaining shortcake halves, cut side down. Serve immediately.

Recipe courtesy Williams Sonoma

Strawberry Smoothie

6 fresh strawberries

6 ice cubes

1 cup fresh orange juice

1 banana, peeled and cut into chunks

1/2 cup plain, vanilla or berry yogurt

Trim the berries. Using a paring knife, cut a thick slice from the top of each strawberry to remove the stem.

Blend it all together. Put the strawberries, ice cubes, orange juice, banana and yogurt into a blender and cover. Blend on high speed until the mixture is frothy and there are no big chunks of fruit or ice, 30 to 40 seconds. Serves two.

Breakfast Smoothie

8 ounces (1 cup) nonfat plain yogurt

1 cup low fat or nonfat milk

1 3/4 cup whole fresh (or frozen) strawberries, hulled

1 fresh peach, peeled and sliced (or 3/4 cup frozen peach slices)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Place first five ingredients in a blender. Purée mixture for 15 to 20 seconds.

Pour into two tall glasses and top each with 1 tablespoon chopped nuts.