In the Catbird Seat/Joe Kirkish

Local strawberries – a little late, but now they’re here. We can ignore the plastic, tasteless kind – chemically treated for long distance travel – and head instead to the local fields or stands along the roads or even in cultivated gardens for a few weeks of picking and eating pleasure.

While they last, the fruit – first grown commercially in France during the late 18th century, but mentioned in ancient Roman literature for its “medicinal” use – is ready to be enjoyed now, either fresh or in prepared foods such as preserves, juice, pies, ice creams, shakes, yogurt, bars and chocolates – well appreciated for their characteristic aroma, bright red color, juicy texture and natural sweetness.

They also blend well with many deserts, salad greens, deli meats, and other fruits from blueberries to melons.

As for “medicinal” values – well, they’re everything good, from vitamin C to dietary fiber and heaps of antioxidants.

Strawberries should be kept as cold as possible in the fridge and used in a few days, before the redness and taste begin to fade. But they also freeze well for future use.

Recipes abound! Who hasn’t saved a special one for annual use?

Look for an excellent magazine, “Healthy Cooking: Taste of Home,” in the April/May issue of 2012 (check the library), or just glance through the recipes below as the magazine’s partial list of the 314 hints for making meals readier, with simpler ingredients, with healthier and more satisfying results than most other esoteric cookbook magazines:

For example: for a 340 calorie breakfast: one scrambled egg, 1 Turkey breakfast sausage, 1 slice whole wheat (not just “wheat”) toast covered with 1 tsp. reduced-fat oleo, 1/2c sliced fresh strawberries, 1/2c apple juice and a cup of coffee with sugar substitute.

Why purchase ready-made salad dressings when berries can create a strawberry orange vinaigrette dressing that will keep for 6 months in the fridge? Peel the zest (rind) from a medium orange into long narrow strips (don’t remove the pith). In a large saucepan, heat 2c white wine vinegar & 2 tbsp. sugar just below the boiling point. Meanwhile, place 2c sliced strawberries in a warm sterilized quart jar; add the heated vinegar mix and the orange peel. Cover, let stand for 10 days in a cool, dark place. Then strain mix through a cheesecloth; discard the pulp & rind. Pour into a sterilized pint jar. Seal tightly. Store in fridge.

For a strawberry poppy seed dressing for extravagant salads: in a blender combine 1/3c sugar, 1/4c strawberry-orange vinegar or raspberry vinegar, 2 tbsp. orange juice, 1/2 tsp. each of onion powder and ground ginger, 1/4 tsp. salt. Process until blended. While blending, slowly add 1/3c canola oil in a steady stream and stir in 1/2 tsp. poppy seeds. Chill until serving.

For an amaretto custard berry parfait, made in less than half an hour, this indulgent custard concoction is a welcome way to sweeten the end of a special meal:

1/3c sugar (or substitute sweetener), 3 tbsp. cornstarch, 1/8 tsp. salt, 2 3/4c 2 percent milk, 4 egg yolks beaten, 2 tsp. butter, 1 tsp. Amaretto, 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract, 1c sliced strawberries, 4 whole strawberries, 1c fresh raspberries.

In a large heavy saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Stir in milk until smooth. Cook, stir over medium-high heat until thickened & bubbly. Reduce heat; cook, stir 2-minutes longer.

Remove from heat. Stir a small amount of the hot mix into egg yolks; return all to the saucepan, stirring constantly. Bring to a gentle boil; cook & stir 2-minutes longer. Remove from heat. Stir in butter, Amaretto & vanilla. Cool to room temperature.

Transfer custard to a small bowl; press waxed paper on the surface. Refrigerate until chilled. Just before serving, spoon 1/4c strawberries into each of 4 parfait glasses. Layer each with 1/3c raspberries & 1/3c custard. Top each with a whole strawberry. Unbelievably delicious!

For a simple, light-weight, tasty strawberry fluffy dessert, be creative: pick and choose among the following for layers in a high-sided 9×12 tray. Begin by baking a white cake mix in the tray. Allow to cool. Then layer as you please: strawberry yogurt, a simple strawberry glaze (crushed berries, corn starch, some sugar or substitute, cooked into thick ooze), whipped cream or cool-whip, finally topped with whole berries – spaced so that at least one per serving is available. Refrigerate. Cut with spatula into 4″ squares and serve.

For the easiest dessert: berries & chocolate in a cup, try this:

1 chocolate-flavored graham cracker, crushed (1 cracker for each cup)

1 tablespoon crushed pretzels

Reddi-wip Original Dairy Whipped Topping

1/4 cup cut-up fresh strawberries

Combine crushed graham cracker and pretzels. Top with one serving (2 tablespoons) Reddi-wip, strawberries and another serving Reddi-wip. Serve immediately.

(82 Calories, 3g Total Fat)

Serving Size: 1 serving (1 shortcake in each cup). For a 100-calorie variation, substitute 2 vanilla wafers for the graham cracker. Proceed with recipe as directed.)

With summer continuing, try any of the above as a truly heavenly, easily made, climax to an indoor meal, picnic or party. You’ll find yourself a hit for the day!

Note: Michigan Light Artillery 28th Civil War Encampment event at Fort Wilkins Park. Exciting all this weekend!

Rotten Tomatoes averages: “Turbo,” B-; “Red 2,” C+