Yesterday my friend Molly and I threw a Memorial Day weekend party. We went to the farmer’s market beforehand. And ended up going a little strawberry-crazy.
It’s certainly the time of year for it. Citrus has all but disappeared from the markets, and stone fruits are still a few weeks away from being great. But strawberries are at their heady best right now, and our local market is crowded with berry vendors. We sampled from all the stands, and zeroed in on the really good fruit–not too big, not too squishy, deep Valentine red, strong-smelling. Strawberries this good deserve star treatment, and we came up with two glorious ways to show them off: a pie and a cocktail.
Initially the plan was strawberry-rhubarb pie, but for some unknown reason there was no rhubarb at the market. So we decided to forge ahead with an all-strawberry pie, based of course on my go-to rye crust. We stuck with an old-fashioned berry pie filling: fruit, a little sugar, cornstarch, a big glug of balsamic vinegar, and a healthy grind of black pepper (my favorite strawberry spice). Although the recipe we adapted was for a lattice-top pie, we decided to make it with just a single crust, to keep the fruit-to-crust ratio as high as possible. The strawberries on top dried out and singed slightly in the heat of the oven, so to make up for it, I melted a little honey in the microwave and brushed it over the top. (Next time I’d turn the oven down partway through to prevent burning; I’ve amended the recipe below to reflect that.)
It’s not often that my baked goods turn out beautiful, but this one was a stunner.
This was the fruit pie that other fruit pies aspire to be: jammy fruit suspended in a light cornstarch jelly, with a subtle shine from the honey glaze and red juices bubbling over a dense buttery crust. We let it cool for an hour, which turned out to be the perfect amount of time, leaving the pie just warm in the center but still firm enough to slice. Even after a rich pasta lunch, we had no trouble devouring it in about 10 minutes flat. After finishing his first piece, one of our friends said, “Now I’m racking my brain to think of where all the other pies in my life went wrong.”
While we were slicing strawberries for pie, Sam decided to steal a few for a cocktail. A quick Google swipe turned up something called a “strawberry berryoska,” a muddled mix of strawberries, lemonade, and vodka. In Sam’s creative hands, the berryoska morphed into a sweet, lightly fizzy affair, thick with strawberry pulp and laced with a touch of Grand Marnier. It was dangerous, to say the least, and perfect for a spring-to-summer party. The only thing that would have made it more perfect was crushed ice, which we didn’t have. But no one really seemed to mind.
In fact, once the pie went into the oven and we realized we had no more strawberries for drinks, Molly was so devastated that she called her late-arriving boyfriend to bring us more. He showed up with a full half-flat of strawberries. Looks like we’ll be strawberry-crazy here for a while yet.
Baked Strawberry Pie (makes one 9-inch pie)
Adapted from Saveur
Note: This is not a very sweet pie–it’s meant show off the flavor of ripe, in-season berries. If you have less-than-stellar strawberries, or you prefer a sweeter filling, you can increase the sugar to as much as 1/2 cup. Beyond that, you’re on your own.
Dough for 1 Rye Pie Crust (or your favorite pie crust), refrigerated for at least 30 minutes
2 lb (about 3 pints) ripe strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/3 cup granulated sugar, or to taste (see note)
1/3 cup (5 heaping tbsp) cornstarch
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper, or to taste
1 tsp honey
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving
Preheat oven to 425º F, and place a rack in the middle of the oven. In a large mixing bowl, combine strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, vinegar, and black pepper. Stir to combine, and set aside.
Roll out the pie crust on a lightly floured surface. Transfer to a 9-inch pie pan and crimp the edges, if desired. Pour the filling into the crust, and use a wooden spoon or flexible spatula to gently even it out. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375º F and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. If the strawberries on top begin to dry out or brown, cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil.
Remove the pie from the oven and place the pan on a cooling rack. Place honey in a small heatproof bowl and microwave for 10-15 seconds, then lightly brush it onto the exposed fruit on top of the filling. Let the pie cool for at least 1 hour before slicing. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream. The pie will keep at room temperature, loosely covered with foil, for about 2 days, and for up to 3 days after that in the fridge.
Sparkling Strawberry Berryoska (makes 1 drink)
4 small strawberries, hulled
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 oz vodka
1 oz Grand Marnier
1 tbsp (1/2 oz) lemon juice
2 oz seltzer (sparkling) water or club soda
In the bottom of an old-fashioned glass or tumbler, muddle strawberries and sugar into a chunky paste. Fill the glass halfway with crushed ice. Add vodka, Grand Marnier, lemon juice, and seltzer or club soda, and stir to combine. Garnish with a small sliced strawberry and serve.