food, family, garden

Fresh Strawberry Pie + Berry Picking

I was feeling a little stir crazy on Sunday after all the rain we've been having, so we decided to brave the mud and get out to a U-Pick farm in Edgerton, KS for some strawberry picking.

We went to Gieringer's Orchard for the last day of their strawberry-picking season.  Susanna busied herself with mud pies and we came away with ten pounds of strawberries to dominate our refrigerator.  It was a lot of fun!

I set to work preparing for the various strawberry projects I had planned, the first of which was to eat our fill of the fresh ones.  Today I'll be working on strawberry-lemon preserves -- a favorite --  and strawberry jam with Thai herbs, which I've never tried but according to the recipe is supposed to be reminiscent of Yum, which is a Thai salad with an apropos name.

I also wanted to experiment with updating a pie I remembered from my childhood.  My brother was the ultimate strawberry lover and every year on his birthday he requested this pie, which consisted of a store-bought crust filled with strawberry Jell-O and sliced strawberries topped with Cool Whip.

Cold, fresh, and delicious, it was a pie we all loved.  Of course, I no longer have a taste for processed foods, so I couldn't leave well-enough alone.  I still wanted to recreate the memory I had of this tasty pie, so I got after it the way I do most things: from scratch.

It started with a flaky crust.  It seems everyone has a favorite recipe and they can all be found on the internet, but I'll still share mine here, along with what I feel is the most vital piece of advice concerning pie crust: The method is just as important as the ingredients.  The temperature of the ingredients along with how they're mixed and stored and baked will determine the resulting texture.

An important note: I'm using a five-inch pie plate in these photos because I believe that fruit pies are only good for two or three days.  As I have a small family that could in no way polish off a full-sized pie in that amount of time, I'm really fond of these little guys.  However, the recipe at the bottom of the post will make a full-sized (nine- to ten-inch) pie.

I like to use a combination of butter and lard (yes, lard!) for the ultimate marriage of flavor and flakiness.  But coconut oil works beautifully in place of the lard if you have vegetarians to consider.  Chill, dice, and chill again is my mantra concerning the fats.  Ice cold water, a light hand in mixing, and plenty of resting and chilling time are the other important factors.  See the recipe below for tips on mixing and rolling.

I blind baked the crust, which is to say I baked it completely with no filling since the filling would be unbaked.  Keeping the strawberries raw really allows their peak-season flavor to be appreciated.

My next step was to create a real strawberry gelatin.  It turned out to be easy and awesome and possibly five minutes more time-consuming than mixing Jell-O.

Traditionally, this pie is filled with sliced strawberries.  I made a base of sliced berries, then topped them with some of the tiniest, cutest berries for a pretty top.  After pouring the fresh gelatin over the berries, the pie chilled for a few hours and then met its perfect mate in some freshly-whipped, vanilla-scented cream.

The result -- and I will say so myself -- was a triumph.  Crisp, tender flakes of savory crust balanced the smooth texture and natural sweetness of the perfect berry filling and the pillowy soft cream.  Try this pie while strawberries are still the stars of the show!

Fresh Strawberry Pie

makes one 9- or 10-inch pie

Crust

  • 2 oz (1/4 cup) lard or coconut oil
  • 2 oz (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup ice water

Measure the lard or coconut oil, then place in the freezer to chill for about 30 minutes.  Dice the cold fat and butter and place in the refrigerator to keep cold.  Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in a large bowl.  Add the cold fats and, if you're mixing by hand, use a pastry cutter to cut them into the dry ingredients.  Or, use the pulse setting on the food processor for approximately 30 pulses.  Either way, you want to cut the ingredients together until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs with a few pea-sized bits.  If you used the food processor, transfer the mixture to a large bowl.  Drizzle in the ice-cold water and use the straight edge of a rubber spatula to cut the water in.  When it begins to come together, press down with the broad, flat surface of the spatula.  Finally, use your hands to gently fold the mixture without kneading it until the dough barely holds a ball shape with a few shaggy bits on the bottom of the bowl.  Shape into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Lightly dust a surface with flour, then place the chilled dough disk on the flour.  Dust the top of the disk lightly, as well.  Roll the dough out, starting in the middle of the disk and rolling toward the edges.  Be sure to flip the dough over every few strokes to prevent sticking; this will allow you to use less flour and disrupt the balance of ingredients as little as possible.  Roll until you are left with a circle about an inch wider in diameter than the top of your pie dish.  Lay the dough disk in the pie dish, pressing the edges in and down, rather than stretching from the center up.  Fold the edges of the dough under, building them up about a quarter inch above the rim of the dish.  Flute the edges as desired, then transfer the crust to the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375.  Use a fork to poke holes in the bottom of the crust.  Cut a square of parchment to fit the pie crust and set it inside.  Fill the parchment with dried beans or metal pie weights and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove the parchment and weights and bake the crust for 15 minutes more or until it is golden and firm to the touch.  Let cool completely.

Filling

  • 1 1/2 pounds rinsed and hulled fresh strawberries, divided
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1-2 Tablespoons granulated sugar, depending on the sweetness of the berries
  • 2 Tablespoons cold water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered unflavored gelatin
  • 2 Tablespoons hot water, just under boiling

Place 8 oz strawberries, lime juice, and sugar in a blender and process until smooth.  Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a medium bowl.  Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and allow to soften for five minutes.  Add the hot water to the gelatin and whisk to melt.  Pour the gelatin mixture into the strawberry mixture and whisk to combine.

Use the remaining pound of strawberries to fill the cooled pie crust.  Slice the large berries and leave the small ones whole.  Pour the gelatin mixture over the berries up to the top of the crust.  Cover the pie with plastic wrap and chill until firm, about three hours.

Topping

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or the scraped seeds from a vanilla bean
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or by hand, whip the cream, vanilla, and sugar to soft peaks.  Top the pie and serve chilled.