Monday, July 4, 2011

Short, But Ever So Sweet

Strawberry season means that summer in Vermont has arrived.  The season is short, but ever so sweet.  This year we picked late, but found the berries plentiful and flavorful, in spite of the wet growing season.  Too much rain during the ripening of berries can water log the fruit often resulting in a less flavorful berry. 

Strawberries are one of my favorite fruits.  As a kid every strawberry season I’d break out in hives from over indulging.  As an adult, practicing restraint remains a challenge!  Although I love strawberries and know how to grow and prepare them (in ohh so many ways) I realized that I didn’t know all that much about their origin, and decided to do some research.  Here is what I learned:

Strawberries are a member of the rose family, and the strawberry itself is what is known as a “false fruit.”  The actual fruits are the 200 or so “seeds” that dot the surface the berry.  Each of these “seeds” is a teeny tiny fruit containing a single seed. 

Strawberries are native to Eurasia and the Americas, and have been cultivated for centuries. Romans cultivated strawberries and believed them to alleviate many medical conditions, including gout, melancholy, and infection.  The French began cultivating strawberries in the 14th century, and believed them to be an aphrodisiac.

In the Americas although wild strawberries were plentiful they were cultivated by indigenous peoples on both continents.  Colonists relied on the ready availability of wild strawberries. In the mid 1700’s when the expansion of settlements made the harvesting of strawberries in the wild difficult, colonists began selecting for cultivation the plants that produced the largest fruit.

The earliest recorded existence of an American strawberry species in Europe is in England in 1624.  South American strawberry species produced larger fruit, and were brought back to Europe from Chile early in the 18th century by a man named Frezier.  (Anyone want to guess where “fraise” the French word for strawberry came from?) And the rest is horticultural history!

Notes for this recipe:  For best results use only fresh, in season native strawberries.  Cloves and mace may seem like odd choices for a strawberry recipe, but this paring is no accident.  After years of experimentation, my dislike for the overuse of cinnamon coupled with my belief this spice does nothing to compliment the delicate strawberry, I finally settled on clove and mace.  These two spices add a fresh cool dimension to the pie and enhance the subtle flavor of the magnificent strawberry.  Yes, the pie in the picture was baked in a cast iron skillet, the precursor to Pyrex.

Strawberry Pie
2 lbs. strawberries, hulled, halved & if very large, quartered
¼ c. tapioca
¼ c. sugar
1/8 tsp. mace
1/8 tsp cloves
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 9” pie plate

Prepare pie crust, wrap in wax paper and place in refrigerator while preparing strawberries.

Place prepared strawberries, tapioca, sugar, mace and cloves in a large bowl.  Mix gently with a rubber spatula to combine.  Set aside to macerate and juice for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425.  Roll out half of the pie crust and fit into selected pie plate.  Trim so edge of pie crust hangs slightly below the lip of the pie plate.  Using the rubber spatula, scrape the prepared berries into the pie crust.  Roll out the remaining pie crust.  Fold into quarters and cut to create decorate vents.  Place folded crust on top of the berries.  

Unfold and stretch ever so slightly to open vents.  Trim crust to hang slightly below bottom crust.  To seal the crusts and create the edge, fold the upper crust under the lower crust, pinch and flute.

Place the pie in the oven and bake at 425 for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, reduce heat to 350 and bake until juices are bubbling through the center vents in the top crust—about 30 to 45 minutes.

Remove pie to a wire tack and cool completely or serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.  Store any leftover pie tightly covered in the refrigerator.

1 comment:

  1. Mmm! This looks wonderful.

    I had no idea "fraise" came from the name of an individual - if I'd had to guess, I would have said it came from the word "frais," meaning fresh!