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Beautiful berries: Don't miss 'last call' for fresh strawberries or Chef Ty's easy way to use them


Chef Ty Thames prepares to demonstrate how to make strawberry and basil yogurt spread with local ingredients at the Starkville Community Market May 4.

Chef Ty Thames prepares to demonstrate how to make strawberry and basil yogurt spread with local ingredients at the Starkville Community Market May 4. Photo by: Haley Montgomery/Courtesy photo


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Chef Thames’ spread made with local strawberries, pecans, honey and basil is paired with local homemade bread.

Chef Thames’ spread made with local strawberries, pecans, honey and basil is paired with local homemade bread.
Photo by: Haley Montgomery/Courtesy photo


Strawberry shortcakes with homemade dough are pictured.

Strawberry shortcakes with homemade dough are pictured.
Photo by:




Jan Swoope



Sprinkled with sugar, dipped in chocolate, topping a cake or just plucked from the plant, strawberries are one of Mother Nature's sweetest gifts, and Chef Ty Thames knows it. He's the driving force behind the innovative, upscale Restaurant Tyler (as well as several other popular Starkville eateries) and one of the area food service industry's staunch proponents of buying local. He'd be the first to say get thee to a farmers' market before the fresh strawberries are gone. 


When the Starkville Community Market opened May 4, Thames kicked off a summer-long series of weekly cooking and gardening demonstrations by showing how to make his strawberry and basil yogurt spread.  


"The recipe is very, very easy; it took me about five minutes to make," said Thames, who used Mayhew Tomato Farm strawberries, Duke Pecan Co. pecans, plus local honey and basil to whip up the sweet, creamy spread that's perfect on homemade bread (also available at the market) for breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea or snacks. It's a good companion for French toast, too.  


The chef has made the most of the recent booming berry season, using strawberries in salads, vinaigrettes and other dishes. 


Advocates like Thames contend that buying locally-grown produce and products pays off in more ways than one. The community, in general, eats fresher and healthier, and growers get the support they need to keep planting and bringing more and more variety to consumers.  


"Farmers' markets are such a keystone to a community," said Thames, who serves on the Starkville Community Market board. They are a great means of keeping everything local, he said. And "local" is at the foundation of how he runs his restaurants.  




Get 'em now 


Unfortunately, the Golden Triangle's strawberry season will soon end.  


"We'll have fresh berries at the markets this Saturday, and maybe next Saturday; we'll pick as long as we can," said Melvin Ellis of Mayhew Tomato Farm, where peak season is mid-April to around mid-May, depending on temperatures. (Strawberries don't like heat.) The Ellis family sells at the Starkville Market, Columbus' Hitching Lot Farmers' Market and West Point's Farmers' Market.  


The beauty of shopping a local market, though, is that almost every week brings something new to the table. Within days, for example, the Ellises will be picking squash and digging potatoes. 


"Each season is so very different, with the timing of fruits and vegetables," Thames remarked. "As the weeks go on, more and more produce will be available."  




Passing it on 


On summer Saturdays, Starkville Community Market will host a variety of culinary and gardening demos, with tips on cooking with local ingredients from experts like Chef Jay Yates of The Veranda, Chef Paul Brasfield of Bin 612 and Chef John Fitzgerald of Restaurant Tyler. As a board member, Thames is coordinating the series and welcomes others who want to share what they know. 


"If there's someone in the community who believes in using local products and wants to do a demonstration, they can get in touch with me," he said. "We'd love to have as many people as possible involved because this is a community thing." Contact Thames at [email protected] 


Be the early bird Saturday morning and pick up some local berries to use in today's quick-fix recipes. From Chef Ty's spread to fruit-swirled quick bread and buttery biscuit-like strawberry shortcakes drizzled with orange liqueur, these treats are made special by plump locally-grown, fragrant strawberries. 


(Editor's note: The Starkville Community Market at the corner of Lampkin and Jackson Streets is open Saturdays 7:30-10:30 a.m. Columbus' Hitching Lot Farmers' Market at Second Street and Second Avenue North is open Mondays 4-6 p.m. and Thursdays and Saturdays 7-10 a.m. Beginning May 16, the West Point Farmers' Market at the Mossy Oak Pavilion will be open Thursdays 4-7 p.m.) 








1 cup yogurt 


2 cups strawberries (diced) 


1 cup pecans (chopped) 


1 oz honey 


1 tablespoon basil (chopped) 




  • In mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and stir. 


    (Source: Chef Ty Thames of Starkville) 








    1 1/2 pounds (about 6 cups) fresh strawberries 


    1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar 


    2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for dusting 


    1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces 


    2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 


    1 teaspoon salt 


    1 cup milk 


    Whipped Cream 




  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Make the sweetened strawberries: Hull and quarter strawberries; toss in a medium bowl with 1/4 cup sugar. Let stand until syrupy, tossing occasionally, at least 20 minutes (and up to 1 day, covered and refrigerated). 


  • In a food processor, combine flour, butter, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt; process until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add milk; pulse just until moistened, 4 or 5 times. Do not overprocess. 


  • Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; with floured hands, gently pat dough into a 4-by-8-inch rectangle. 


  • Dust a large knife with flour; cut dough into 8 squares. Transfer to a baking sheet; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake until golden, 25 to 30 minutes; cool on baking sheet. To serve, split biscuits with a serrated knife; layer with berries and whipped cream. 










    5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan 


    1 pint strawberries, rinsed, hulled, quartered, and mashed with a fork 


    1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 


    1 teaspoon baking soda 


    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 


    1/4 teaspoon baking powder 


    1/4 teaspoon salt 


    1 cup sugar 


    2 large eggs 




  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan. In a small saucepan, bring strawberries to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Set aside. 


  • In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt; set aside. With an electric mixer, cream butter, sugar, and eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture alternately with 1/3 cup water, beginning and ending with flour. Fold in reserved strawberries. 


  • Scrape batter into prepared pan, smoothing top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour (tent with foil after 45 minutes if top is getting too dark). Cool in pan 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges; invert onto a rack. Reinvert; cool completely. 




  • Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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