York County's strawberry season traditionally starts around Memorial Day, but I can't resist grabbing a few pints from the grocery store before the pick-your-own bonanza begins at local farms. Rolling my cart past the strawberry display inevitably puts images in my head — strawberry shortcakes and pies, bowls of ice cream topped with strawberry slices, strawberry juice running down the side of angel food cake — and buying becomes a compulsion.
These strawberry oat squares began life as cranberry bars until my strawberry compulsion steamrolled over them. The result is a suitable replacement for toaster oven breakfast pastries or an afternoon snack with another of my can't-wait-for-summer favorites: lemonade.
If you don't have pear nectar on hand for the filling, apple juice is a fine replacement.
Strawberry Oat Squares
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (for crust)
3/4 cup butter, cut into pieces
1 cup old-fashioned oats
2/3 cup pear nectar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar (for filling)
2 cups fresh diced strawberries
dash ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 F.
To make the crust, combine flour and 1/2 cup brown sugar in a food processor. Pulse a few times to mix. Add butter and continue pulsing to form fine crumbs. Add oats and pulse until the crumbs begin to clump. (Note: If you don't have a food processor, assemble the crust in a mixing bowl and cut in the butter.)
Reserve 1 cup of the crumb mixture for the topping. Press the remaining crumb mixture on the bottom of an ungreased 13-by-9-inch baking pan.
Bake the crust for 15 minutes or until it begins to brown.
While the crust bakes, assemble the filling on the stovetop. Boil the pear nectar and 2/3 cup brown sugar in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the diced strawberries and bring the mixture back to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. The filling will thicken slightly. Remove the filling from heat and sprinkle in the nutmeg.
Remove the baked crust from the oven and spread the filling evenly over it. Sprinkle the reserved crumb mixture on top.
Bake the assembled layers for about 25 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.
Cool the squares in the pan on a wire rack. Makes 32 servings.
— Reach Mel Barber at email@example.com.