It's that time. The time of the narrow overlap between rhubarb season and strawberry season. When I lived up north, the reasoning behind the strawberry-rhubarb pie, though one of my all-time favorites, was puzzling, as the two fruits never seemed to coincide seasonally. Down in the more southern climes, though, you can generally acquire both fruits (or the fruit and vegetable?) in one May farmers' market trip.
As I mentioned in the last post, this past weekend finally felt like we were on the brink of summer. It was warm, all the trees were finally brilliant green and leafed-out, and I was even nursing a bit of a sunburn from the weekend prior. On our way back from Korean brunch on Saturday morning, we drove past the Mt. Pleasant Farmers' Market. As we approached, I slowed down to a cruising speed, and craned my neck out the window. "Do you see strawberries?" I asked Brent. "Totally," he replied. I slammed on the brakes "REALLY?!!" "What? No." But by then I had already pulled the car over and focused my strawberry tracking beam eyes on stacks of green quart boxes filled with those red berries.
Maybe my special vision only works on berries, though, because I didn't spot any rhubarb at the market. But no matter, I knew that for my inaugural dessert of berry season, I wanted to make this oh-so-summery strawberry icebox pie, recipe from Nancie McDermott.
As Nancie says in her book, Southern Pies, many icebox pies use gelatin to set it up, this filling is essentially just a quick strawberry jam, folded in with whipped cream, making it similar to the classic British dessert, fool. The strawberries-and-cream also make it rather Wimbledon-esque, which signals the arrival of summer. Though this pie might have some Brit-leanings, it is distinctly American, and I might be jumping the gun here, it could be just the perfect thing for your 4th of July tennis viewing party (which coincides with the men's quarterfinals this year).
Say strawberries aren't your thing, though? Perhaps you have a tree-full of mulberries in your backyard or happened upon a black raspberry patch in the park. Another thing that's superb about this pie is that it's incredibly versatile. Substitute blueberries or blackberries or raspberries for the strawberries, and you've got a recipe that will last you all summer long. In fact, you could use any type of jam, adding other flavors like ginger, vanilla, mint...the possibilities are endless. You could also try different crusts, like this pecan shortbread, almond shortbread, or for something tropical, how 'bout a gingersnap-macadamia? Whatever variation you try, this is the perfect pie to come home to after a day spent poolside (or court side), out in the sun.
Strawberry Icebox Pie
Adapted from Nancie McDermott's Southern Pies
1 1/4 c. graham cracker crumbs (about 15 cracker squares)
3 Tblsp. sugar
1/3 c. butter, melted
1/3 c. cornstarch
1/3 c. water
6 c. hulled and coarsely chopped strawberries, ideally fresh (though frozen is okay too!)
1 c. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tsp. butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 c. heavy cream
2 c. fresh strawberries, sliced (for garnish, optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put graham crackers in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until crackers are finely ground into crumbs. Add sugar and melted butter and pulse until well mixed.
2. Pat the buttery crumbs into a 9-inch pie pan, pressing mixture into the bottom and sides to form a pie crust. Place in oven and bake until crust is lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Place on a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature before adding the filling.
1. Combine cornstarch and water in a small bowl, whisking until all lumps are dissolved. Set aside.
2. Combine hulled and chopped strawberries, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Cook on medium heat until the strawberry mixture comes to a low boil. Stirring often, continue to cook the mixture until a sauce begins to form, about 5 minutes.
3. Re-whisk the cornstarch and water mixture and add it to the saucepan. Continue to cook and stir the sauce until it boils again, becomes thick and berries soften, approximately 3-4 minutes longer. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter and vanilla and set aside to cool to room temperature.
4. Meanwhile, whip the cream in a large bowl until it becomes very thick and holds round medium peaks. Stir in the strawberry jam mixture and gently it in with the cream until evenly combined. Pour filling into the graham cracker crust and refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours, until pie is very cool and the filling is quite firm. Serve cold, with extra strawberries and/or additional whipped cream. Strawberries and cream!
P.S. After years of using a pretty crappy digital point-and-shoot, I finally have a great new camera, a birthday present from my awesome dad, who is, in fact, a professional photographer. I still need to learn to use it a little better (note the middle photo). But bigger and better photos, here we come!