In the last few years, I have truly become a seasonal eater. The rise in popularity of farmers markets has encouraged me in this, because the array of beautiful farm fresh fruits and vegetables is so tempting. And after years of being desensitized by perennially available produce, I have rediscovered just how amazing produce is in season, not treated by gasses and flown and trucked in from miles and miles away. I had forgotten what a strawberry is supposed to taste like. And I have accustomed myself to the wonder of eating in season and the anticipation for the next season to gorge myself. April and May are all about strawberries, replaced by blueberries, and so on and so on. I freeze, can and dry the bounty, but otherwise, I don’t eat tomatoes in winter or strawberries in fall. And enjoy them all the more for it.
And strawberries are the beginning of it all. By mid-April when they come in here, I am over winter. Asparagus, artichokes and lettuces are in, but I am desperate for fruit. My frozen stock has run low, and clementines have run their course! Then come the strawberries. I buy them by the quart, and snack on them constantly. And of course I can cook and bake with them. It’s the herald of summer and the good meals to come.
With my first haul of strawberries this year, I returned to this old-fashioned classic, cooked in an old black skillet. The presentation is impressive and highlights the beautiful berries perfectly.
Skillet Strawberry Upside Down Cake
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
Preheat the oven to 350°. Choose a platter that is larger than the circumference of your skillet.
Spray a 9-inch cast iron skillet generously with non-stick cooking spray. Mix the brown sugar and melted butter in the skillet and spread it evenly over the bottom.
Cut the strawberries in half and arrange them, cut side up, over the brown sugar in the skillet, filling the space as much as possible without overlapping the berries. Remember, this is the side that will be presented, so make it look good.
Mix the flour, baking soda and salt together in a small bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs for about a minute at high speed, then slowly add the sugar. Beat the mixture until it is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them to the mixture while it beats. Lower the speed and gradually add the flour mixture until everything is smooth and combined.
Dollop the batter over the berries in the skillet, then carefully spread it out to cover the berries, without disturbing them too much. Spread the batter to the edges of the pan. Bake the cake until the top is firm and golden brown, about 35 – 40 minutes. There will be some bubbling juices around the sides. Check the cake with a tester; it’s ready when there are just a few crumbs clinging to it.
Carefully remove the skillet from the oven and run a thin knife around the edges to help pull it away. Quickly and carefully invert the skillet onto your chosen platter. Leave it to sit for about 5 minutes so the fruit and sugar slide out. Remove the skillet by lifting it straight up.
Serve the cake immediately or at room temperature. This is good on its own, or with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Serves 6 – 8