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Stateside Podcast: Michigan strawberry fields forever

April Baer
Michigan Radio

Strawberries are in-season in Michigan and even though this year's climate has stifled the amount of berries produced this season, the berries we did have were “small, yet intensely flavored." That's according to Kim Bayer, the owner of Slow Farm in Ann Arbor.

In this podcast episode, we talked to Bayer to hear about Michigan’s Berry Season and Warda Bouguettaya, James Beard award-winning Detroit pastry chef and owner of Warda Pâtisserie to learn about what she does with produce from this berry season.

Michigan’s berry season this year

Weather and climate plays an important role in the way that berries are grown, produced, and harvested in Michigan. Bayer explained that Slow Farm only produced 10% of what they typically produce in a season. The extreme weather like droughts and heavy rain affected the amount of berries produced. Recently, air quality issues have made it difficult to harvest berries.

“Another impact for us has been the wildfire smoke,” Bayer said. “We've had a couple of days that have been too dangerous to work … out in the field.”

Even though the crops are smaller this year, the berries still are bursting with flavor.

“I mean, our strawberries are kind of the best that you've ever tasted anyways, but this year they've just been especially good,Bayer said.

Kids often return from berry picking with their hands and faces stained with red juice from strawberries. (Bayer called it “strawberry face.”) Other times, customers tell Bayer that the berries remind them of their childhood.

“Not too long ago, somebody came to the farm and said, ‘These strawberries made me cry because they tasted like the strawberries from my home in Bulgaria.’ So things like that happen pretty regularly where people say, this doesn't taste like anything I could buy in a store.”

Cooking tips from award winning pastry chef, Warda Bouguettaya

Bouguettaya picks her own berries from Bayer’s farm yearly. Some recent standout strawberry confections include her strawberry tarts topped with Lebanese orange blossom whipped labneh, and the Dos Gardenias, a delicate cake featuring strawberry jam and a rhubarb cordial glaze .

But she had a simpler suggestion for how to prepare strawberries.

The most simple way for me to enjoy strawberries is how … my mother actually used to make them, which is sliced strawberries with just a little bit of sugar and orange blossom water,” Bouguettaya said.

She said that the orange flavor brings out the sweetness of the strawberries.

“It's truly a beautiful partnership … You have the strawberry and then you have the orange, of two different seasons. But then they come together in spring and they make this beautiful combination.”

If you want to incorporate strawberries into your pastries, Bouguettaya advised keeping them fresh. She said that when strawberries are baked and covered with flour and excess sugar they can lose their flavor. Instead, top a treat with strawberries so that you can still get their flavor and sweetness.

The berry growing season doesn’t end with strawberries. Bouguettaya said that she’s looking forward to the raspberry and blueberry season in Michigan – fruits she didn’t have when she was growing up in Algeria.

I love raspberries … I didn't grow up eating raspberries. So that was, like, an enchanting discovery for me when I moved to Michigan. Same thing with blueberries … So for me, I’m looking forward to [those seasons].”

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Lauren Nyong joined the Stateside team as an intern in May 2023 and is a Junior studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at Calvin University.
Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.