Strawberry heaven

  • Nourse Farms Strawberries for sale at their River Road farm in Whately. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Mary Nourse pours the strawberry glaze onto the fresh berries for Strawberry Pie. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Nourse Farms Strawberries for sale at their River Road farm in Whately. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Tim and Mary Nourse's Strawberry Pie. Staff Photos/PAUL FRANZ

  • Mary Nourse mashes up berries for the sauce for Strawberry pie. Staff Photos/PAUL FRANZ

  • Tim and Mary Nourse with their strawberry pie. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Mary Nourse pours the strawberry glaze onto the fresh berries for Strawberry Pie. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Tim Nourse cuts up strawberries for Strawberry Pie. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

For the Recorder
Published: 7/3/2019 6:00:17 AM

Photographer Paul Franz and I gazed at the lush, red strawberries for sale in front of the offices at Nourse Farms in Whately last week. Paul remarked that the berries looked enormous.

“Three hundred sixty-five days a year we think about berries,” owner and president Tim Nourse said … as if that explained the size of his berries. Perhaps it did.

Nourse says he is 80 but looks much younger. A slim, active man dressed in jeans with a baseball cap on his head, he strides around his farm with purpose. What became Nourse Farms started as a strawberry farm in Andover in 1932, founded by a man named Roger Lewis.

In the 1960s, Lewis decided he needed a partner. He had met Tim Nourse at a farm cooperative where the young veteran (Nourse spent three years as an officer in the Marines) worked. The two formed a small corporation.

Appreciating the soil in the Pioneer Valley, in 1968 Lewis and Nourse purchased land in Whately, which has been augmented greatly over the years. When Lewis decided to retire in 1974, he sold his share of the business to Nourse and Nourse’s wife Mary.

At that point the Whately property held only an elderly house and a small processing building. Today Nourse Farms is a complex of buildings, with two giant cooling facilities and several greenhouses.

It also sells a lot more than strawberries and strawberry plants. Today at Nourse, one can purchase plants for cultivating rhubarb, asparagus, horseradish, currants, and many types of berries. And one can purchase other soft fresh fruits as the season evolves.

Tim Nourse informed me that about 90 percent of the farm’s business consists of plant sales. Fruit sales take up the rest. The farm no longer offers picking for strawberry lovers, but it does sell strawberries to those who stop by. 

It also sells berries wholesale. Many of the wholesale berries stay in the local area, in farm stands and grocery stores. 

“Our berries are in all the valley towns,” Nourse informed me. “They have that valley feel.”

Although his wife is not a big strawberry fan (she told me that she is looking forward to raspberry season), Tim Nourse himself adores strawberries. “I like them on cereal. I like them on ice cream…. I eat strawberries at least twice a day,” he confessed.

Nourse studied agronomy and agricultural economics at the University of Connecticut, and he clearly relishes the scientific side of his work. He pointed to a large red building that houses his laboratory. There eight employees micropropagate disease-free plants that the farm sells all over the world.

Nourse is also always looking for novel, cost-effective ways to cultivate his plants. He described an innovative trellis method he has recently started using to produce blackberries.

The blackberries grow right on the trellises. These structures can be laid on their sides and covered in the winter to protect the plants, which don’t like cold New England weather.

Last year Nourse acquired a five-acre tract of land in Northfield, at which the farm is exploring greenhouse fruit production. He noted that greenhouses can produce healthier fruit than fields because the plants are protected from many of the pests and diseases found outdoors. 

“Probably 90 percent of all berries grown in Europe are grown in greenhouses,” he explained. “We manage our risk by using the tools that we have at our disposal.”

Although the Nourses lived on the farm property for many years, about 20 years ago they built a home a few miles away. “Mary decided she wanted to get away from the confusion,” Tim Nourse said with a twinkle in his eye.

Nourse took Paul Franz and me to that shingled house, which is surrounded by a stunning garden that is Mary Nourse’s pride and joy. In their compact kitchen the Nourses worked together to prepare the farm’s classic strawberry pie. It was a thing of beauty, brimming with gorgeous ripe fruit.

Nourse Farms Strawberry Pie

Recipes evolve — and this one clearly has. Mary and Tim Nourse prepared this strawberry pie for Paul and me using the recipe they have given to customers over the years.

Tim Nourse reported that customers have long raved over the recipe. His wife felt that it contained too much liquid, however. She said that she often prefers to make the glaze for the pie using only strawberry juice.

What’s a reporter to do? I have amended the recipe slightly to respect Mary Nourse’s wishes. The original recipe called for 1 cup of water. I have changed this to 1/2 cup. This should make enough liquid to generate a generous glaze without overwhelming the pie with liquid.

Mary Nourse prefers a crust made with biscuit mix. To make this, combine 1 cup of biscuit mix with 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of softened butter. Stir in 2 tablespoons of boiling water, mix well, and press the dough into your pie pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 400 degrees; then allow the crust to cool before filling it.

You may also use any crust you like: your favorite basic pastry, for example, or a graham-cracker crust. The crust doesn’t really matter. The strawberries are the star of this dish.

1 quart fresh strawberries (or more; the Nourses used about 6 cups)

3/4 cup sugar

2-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons red food coloring (optional, but the Nourses like it to cement the red color of the pie)

1 9-inch pie crust, baked into a 9-inch pie pan

Clean and hull the strawberries. Separate out 1 cup of the berries, and mash them.

In a saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt, water, and food coloring. Cook over low heat until thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the mashed fruit.

While the liquid is cooking, place the remaining whole berries in the baked pie shell, distributing them evenly. Pour the glaze over these berries to coat them, lifting berries a bit as needed to make sure they all get some liquid. 

Chill the pie in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Serve plain or garnished with whipped cream or ice cream. Serves 6 to 8. 

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.




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