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)
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.