Strawberry Fields Forever
Contributed by Dana Benigno
I remember one June morning when my mom and her friend Gail loaded all of the kids (five of us, ages 11 to 5) into our wood-paneled, blue station wagon and drove to a strawberry patch to pick berries. It was a hot summer morning and we were all dispersed throughout a few rows, when dark ominous clouds appeared on the horizon. We all began picking and eating strawberries as fast as we could to finish before the storm hit. We didn’t make it. Torrential rains completely drenched all of us turning the rows into mud slicks.
We sank into the wet mud up to our ankles as we trudged out of the field. Five very muddy and wet kids rode home with two drenched moms, and it was the most fun. The smell of strawberries always reminds me of that day.
In the upper Midwest, strawberry season begins in early to mid-June and usually lasts through the Fourth of July, depending upon the weather. When berries are at their peak, make a large purchase and freeze them in zip-top bags for smoothies, pancakes, pies and other treats throughout the year. Farmers markets are the best place to buy locally grown strawberries, because they are picked at their peak and sold immediately for the freshest taste.
For me, there is something nostalgic about recipes that use fresh berries. Maybe it’s the style of desserts such as strawberry short cake or ice cream, but they all make me think of state fairs and church picnics. Here’s a classic American recipe just right for late spring and early summer.
Photograph of Pie and of Dana Benigno, by Kaitlyn McQuaid
3 egg whites
1½ cups sugar
1 heaping quart of strawberries stemmed and washed—a few more for garnish
Juice from 1 lemon
½ cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup melted butter
1½ cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped pecans or almonds (optional)
Place the first 4 ingredients into a mixing bowl. Using the whisk attachment or beaters, beat on high speed for approximately 20 minutes or until the mixture has quadrupled in volume and is very high, light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Fold the whipping cream into the strawberry meringue mature.
For the crust, mix the flour, salt and sugar directly in a 9-inch pie plate or springform pan. Add the melted butter and stir. Pat the dough into the pie plate or pan to cover the bottom and up the sides. Bake at 350° for 12 to 15 minutes-until golden brown. Let cool completely before filling.
Pour into the crust. Crust must be completely cool. Freeze for 8 hours in the freezer. Serve frozen with additional strawberries as garnish and drizzle with chocolate sauce.
When I made this recipe I forgot how much fun it was to have loads of delicious strawberry fluff. The crust was so simple because you mix it right in the pan with no fussing with rolling pins or flour, which is why it will be my new "go to” pastry crust. There are many versions of this recipe that use processed food products, but this was the original made by church ladies everywhere!
Looking for a U-pick farm for organic strawberries, summer berries and vegetables, but don’t want to leave the city? The Pie Patch Farm is a half-acre farm located in the Back of the Yards at 5045 S. Laflin St., Chicago. Seasonal picking is available but in limited quantities.
“For me, there is something nostalgic about recipes that use fresh berries. Maybe it's the style of desserts, but they all make me think of state fairs and church picnics.”