Thursday, July 16, 2009

Berry Season

I'm not a fan of summer weather. I love cool temperatures, hot tea, precipitation, and baggy sweatshirts. It's why I live in Maine instead of San Diego.

Fortunately, summer is made more tolerable by the arrival of my favorite food: fresh-picked strawberries. Nothing beats a petite, ruby red berry, warmed and sweetened by the sun.

To make the most of the short season, I went picking twice last weekend, starting at Langley's Strawberries in Hermon. The rows were neatly weeded, the plants heavy with perfectly ripe berries, and in no time I'd filled 4 quarts. Picking didn't go as quickly at Tate's Strawberry Farm in Corinth, where two of us spent an hour and a half combing through weeds and rotten berries to fill a dozen quarts. I got a funny lower back sunburn from bending over the rows so long.

My husband can't fathom picking fruit in the hot sun for recreation; back in California, picking is a minimum-wage job taken out of desperation. But we Mainers are a hearty, self-sufficient people prone to doomsday fantasies, so we like to play at survival. (If all the grocery stores were destroyed in a nuclear war, would I know how to gather berries and store them for the winter? Could I bake beans in a fire pit, and make my own toilet paper out of leaves?)

After picking, though I had 16 quarts of strawberries and a pint of sour cherries from the farmers' market, I couldn't resist pulling over at a roadside raspberry stand. These things only come once a year, I told myself, like Christmas.

I had some canning projects in mind. Seeing Food, Inc. made me want to drop out of the industrial food system entirely and eat only what I can buy directly from a farmer or grow myself. I'm not resourceful enough to pull this off without starving, but the sentiment is there.

I preserved some of the strawberries in syrup, to pour over ice cream and cheesecake. I also put away a dozen small jars of strawberry jam for Christmas gifts (don't worry, you'll have forgotten by then), and some pints of strawberry-lemonade concentrate, delicious mixed 1:1 with seltzer.

I love putting fruit by for later use, but the sugar required for all this canning—almost 5 pounds—alarms me. Maybe I ought to invest in a chest freezer, so I can preserve summer fruit without turning it into candy. Or perhaps a dehydrator, and I'll make fruit jerky. Any tips or suggestions, readers, for August blueberries and September apples?

I reserved the reddest, prettiest strawberries for pie. Simple is best with fruit this perfect.

Summer Strawberry Pie
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma: Desserts (The Best of the Kitchen Library)

9-inch pie shell, pre-baked and cooled
1/2 to 2/3 cup sugar, depending on your berries
2 tablespoons thickener (cornstarch, tapioca, or arrowroot)
6 cups stemmed strawberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Stir the sugar and thickener together in a medium saucepan. Add 2 cups of strawberries and mash with a fork or potato masher. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 2 minutes. Place syrupy mixture in refrigerator and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

When mixture is cool, fold in two cups whole strawberries. Pour into pre-baked pie shell. Arrange remaining 2 cups strawberries on top of pie. Chill until ready to serve.

Do I even need to tell you how beautifully this goes with vanilla ice cream and whipped coconut cream?

I made another version using the raspberries and sour cherries. Sweet, tart, and bursting with fresh-picked fruit, it wasn't around long enough to photograph.

7 comments:

  1. Man, I miss the fresh strawberries! Our season ended in May. But now we have blackberries and blueberries.

    I love makin' jam with berries, but it does take a crap ton of sugar!!

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  2. Wow, the sheer amount of berries that you got makes my mouth water! My parents have a raspberry bush and more berries than the family can eat, so we just freeze them on a cookie sheet and then bag them. They last us through the winter and part of spring and are great for smoothies, tossing into oatmeal, and being included in baked goods. The same works well for blueberries and probably strawberries. The only suggestion that I have for the apples is massive amounts of homemade apple sauce or freezing pies.

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  3. Your strawberry pie is beautiful! I might prefer it to my raw one, haha.

    Thanks for your concern/advice on my stomach! I'd thought about drinking ginger tea, but at your suggestion, I've been drinking it A LOT! thanks! too early to see if it's helping, but it can't be hurting!

    I'm on meds for pain/bloating/etc, which aren't really helping, but I'm supposed to get a CT of my abdomen soon (waiting for the call), and I have an appointment with a gastrointestinal specialist next fri. So it's all in order, I just hate having to wait!!

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  4. You're right about berries making summer better, I hate the heat - I already can't wait for Autumn to roll around.

    Your summer strawberry pie looks delicious.

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  5. I looooove berries, that all looks so good!

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  6. Those preserves look so good. Where do you get your jars from. Are they old jars from jams you had or there is someplace that sells jars. I can never find jars around here and it deters me from making any jam or jelly.

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  7. caribbeanvegan,

    I bought my jars at a local hardware/homegoods store. In the US, I know all Ace Hardware stores carry canning supplies, and Wal-Mart does, too. Any kitchen store or large department store with a kitchen section should carry canning supplies. You can re-use glass jars and the metal rings, but you need new lids for each project. Even if you can't can things for long-term storage, you could always make jam, keep it in any old container the fridge, and eat it within 2 weeks. Good luck!

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