It happens every May. That longing, the uncontrollable need for some truly luscious fresh fruit. That longing for fruit that doesn’t deceive me with its beautiful outside only to find its insides white and tasteless. Yes, I am talking about Strawberries, folks. That wonderful spring delight that is often displayed in grocery stores using imposters or, shall I say more kindly, beautiful pale ghosts of the real thing.
Let me explain myself. I grew up on a farm in Maryland and, since my childhood, I have been a bit of a produce snob. My brother is a farmer with pick-your-own strawberries as one of his crops. I come by my snobbery naturally.
Each spring, I wait as patiently as I can. I see the gorgeous California strawberries in the grocery store in early May and they are tough to ignore. The local strawberries are still in their flower state, not yet berries. In Maryland, berries ripen nearer to the end of May.
Today I got to pick! It’s still cool outside, but some of the berries have ripened and are ready. Picking in cool weather is ideal for comfort, but one of things you miss is the experience of standing in a warm field with the scent of strawberry jam filling your nose. It is almost overwhelming. I was sad to miss it, but happy to not be sweating.
There are a few hints to finding the best berries.
Always walk as far into the patch as you can. Almost everyone who picks starts at the very first ripe berry they see. Few make it to the far end of the patch.
Gently push the leaves aside to find the mother lodes. The berries on the outside are the first to ripen but the ones on the inside tend to be in huge bunches.
Always turn the berry over before picking it from the stem. Nothing is more disappointing than seeing a perfect berry, picking it and finding it is white on the underside. Resist picking berries that are light pink. They will taste like grocery berries. Go for ones that are almost purple in color for the maximum sweetness.
And, lastly, stop picking when your box is about 3/4 full. In my experience all of the best berries are found when leaving the field.
Now that you have the berries, what do you do with them? Eat them, I know, but you will have approximately 10 pounds of berries to work with. If you pick them at peak ripeness, they go bad quickly.
So, besides eating them plain – no sugar needed – I recommend a glazed strawberry pie. It is very quick, easy and, for the most part, the strawberries are left to their natural goodness. Only a small amount are cooked, the rest are just arranged in the pie shell. This recipe comes from a cookbook my sister made for my mother of all the family recipes that have been handed down through the years.
Quick Glazed Strawberry Pie
I like to use a graham cracker crust, but it’s messy to eat, no pretty cut pieces. Use any pie shell you like, pre-made or make your own, just make sure it’s deep to hold all those berries.
My favorite pie in the whole universe is this pie made with black raspberries. Put a thin layer of cream cheese over the bottom of the crust before adding the whole berries and you have reached pie nirvana!
one deep pie shell, baked or pre-made
1 quart strawberries (or raspberries)
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
Blend and reserve 1 cup of the berries.
Combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt and water in a medium saucepan until thickened, about 10-15 minutes, stirring to keep from burning on the bottom. Add blended berries. Put the rest of the whole berries into the pie shell. Pour the cooled syrup over the berries to coat them.
Chill for four hours. Serve with whipped cream.