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Of the Earth: Bidding strawberry season adieu

  • Learn how to make Yvonne Brown’s strawberry pie using the recipe in this week’s column. For the Recorder/Wesley Blixt

  • BLIXT



For the Recorder
Tuesday, July 10, 2018

So, the time has come, as it sadly does, to bid a loving seasonal farewell to the native strawberry. We enjoyed its abundance a bit longer this year, due to cooler, wetter weather early on. But, even though you might be able to snag a few picked berries somewhere at something like $6 a quart, the party is essentially over.

And what a party it was this year. Some folks swear that the sweetest berries come at the end of the season, so that picking the best berries becomes a race to a vanishing point. If you have bitten into a plump, sun-ripened berry on a hot day, you know that it evokes a half-formed memory or longing that is almost too perfect to endure. No wonder, a friend has told me, that strawberries were once thought to provoke delirium (this is unlikely to be true, but it makes for a great story.)

The best way I can imagine to mark the end of the strawberry season is with Yvonne Brown’s strawberry pie, lovingly offered to us by her daughter (and my friend) Barbara Brown, who has made this pie every June/July for at least 20 years. It has, she said, become more of a tradition than holiday cookies.

“I know my mother didn’t create this,” she noted. “I think she said this came from Betty Crocker, but I just had it on an index card from her. I have changed some of the wording/details to reflect how I make it. I like less sugar, and use extra berries, and I never add water. So the wording isn’t exactly from her card.”

Brown recalls that her mother was an excellent baker.

“Her father owned a bakery and my father grew up on a farm — so recipes that connect me to baking and farms are very special,” she said. Brown insists on personally picking the pies that she gives to friends, and was surprisingly able to find some berries at the Paciesnik Farmstand in Whately as late as July 3. The result, fortunately, is reflected herein.

One addendum: Brown suspects that serving ice cream with this particular pie might prove to be a bit “distracting.” Instead, she recommends a dollop of whipped cream. Nice touch.

Yvonne Brown’s Strawberry Pie

Ingredients:

Single pie crust, baked and cooled

1 quart strawberries

3 oz. cream cheese

¾ cup sugar

3 T corn starch

Remove cream cheese from the refrigerator for about 10 minutes and spread onto the crust.

Wash, drain and hull the strawberries. Select about eight of the choicest berries, cut them in half and lay them face down on the cream cheese.

Mash the remaining berries. Add water (or more mashed berries if you have them) as needed to make 1.5 cups. Cooking slowly, bring the mashed berries to a boil.

Gradually stir in a mixture of the sugar and cornstarch. Continue cooking over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir for one minute, then allow to cool.

Pour the berries in the pie shell. Chill for at least three hours until set, then remove from the refrigerator 20 minutes before serving.

The Crust: Barbara Brown’s crust comes from Mrs. Smith — no, not the frozen pie subsidiary of Schann Corp. in Pennsylvania, but rather Mrs. Smith who lived next door to Barbara and her sister, Sue.

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

1 tsp. salt

1¼ cup shortening

5 T cold water

1 egg

Dash of vinegar

Mix flour, salt and shortening. Beat the egg, water and vinegar. Combine, line the dish and bake for eight min.

The Cutting Board

Eat the Vote: We’ll have more on this in coming weeks, but here’s a heads-up. The four candidates for Massachusetts governor have responded to a survey asking for their positions on issues related to agriculture, food access, farmland protection and other food system issues, and their responses have been posted online at bit.ly/2KVUWwi.

The survey, circulated by the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, prompted the candidates to reflect on their policy positions as they relate to the issues raised in the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan.

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at wesleyblixt@me.com.