california and michigan memories ::::
I wrote about a coconut cake with mango curd three years ago. The context of that post shared remembrances of a summer in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Today’s recipe is even more directly related to that summer.
In that post, I recounted house painting in Benton Harbor in 1990, working in daytime heat and appreciating the cool, calm blue of the church stained-glass in the evenings and during the breaks. We worked for an underserved population. But we were privileged, by being visitors but also by our skin color. And we were treated so. That made an impression on me, which I remember clearly even now. This was before Rodney King. Before Michael Brown. After desegregation. After … so much. This history is too important to relegate it to a post about strawberry pie. (See my “Likey Likey” page to see more on racial justice and intersectionality.)
The last night we spent in the area, we were split into small groups, each parting to have dinner with one of the families from the church. There were three of us that a gracious hostess, Elaine, picked up to take to her home across the lake, in the more upscale area. Looking to not embarrass anybody, she made us a vegetarian lasagna, as the previous year she had one student announce vegetarianism when she served a meat-filled one. And then there was the famous family recipe fresh strawberry pie.
At that point in my life, I had worked in the kitchen of a four-star Maine restaurant. I knew good desserts when I tasted them. When I asked for the recipe, she graciously gave me a copy. I consider myself a rather meticulous recipe keeper, or in other words, I save too many. So when I could not find the original copy of the recipe in the last ten years, sometimes frenetically looking for the salmon colored recipe card because I just saw it, I am understandably disappointed in my organization skills (moving multiple times over the past 10 years doesn’t help). My search for döppelganger pie started in earnest.
I did most of my research when we were in California, given the luscious, fresh berries we had access to. I did find a recipe and duplicated Elaine’s recipe almost exactly as I remember it. But, like the past, the perfect recipe slipped through my fingers again. I had originally found the recipe on the Internet and did not make a copy. When I went to retrieve the recipe again, it had since disappeared from the search engine and I could not remember the website. And so I have written down my cobbled remembrances and trials, finally learning my lesson.
The beauty of this recipe is that there is the cooked, jammy flavor of some of the berries with the brightness of the fresh. When I think of early summer, I think this pie. I think of our California connections. I remember a humid Michigan summer. I think of my skin, white, the golden brown of my husband’s, and the dark brown of friends. I think of I remember the soft, cool light of the stained glass windows. I remember the perfect strawberry pie after a day in the sun.
One year ago: goodbye, california! (We’ve been in Georgia for almost a year?!? My next post will be a recap of that roadtrip.)
- PIE DOUGH for one standard 9-inch pie: 1 cup white flour
- ¾ cup whole-wheat flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, in a small dice
- ¼ cup shortening
- 5 to 7 tablespoons ice water
- FILLING: 4½ to 5 cups (620 to 680 grams) hulled and quartered strawberries
- ¼ cup (30 grams) cup cornstarch
- ½ cup water (to mix with cornstarch)
- ⅔ cup (135 grams) sugar, or possibly more if your berries aren't very sweet
- pinch teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon almond extract
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 egg yolk + 1 tablespoon cream or milk, beaten
- whipped cream, optional for serving
- a splash of balsamic vinegar for whipped cream
- MAKE THE CRUST:* Mix flours, sugar, and salt together.
- Add butter and toss until just coated with flour mixture.
- Rub butter between thumb and forefingers to incorporate into flour mixture, so that the butter-flour mix looks crumbly and is about the size of chickpeas. It will clump when squeezed in your palm. (Alternatively, you can gently pulse the ingredients in a food processor.)
- Add shortening, toss to coat, then rub it into the flour mixture until the mixture forms pea-sized pieces. It will also come together in fist-sized clumps when squeezed in your palm. (Again, you can use a food processor here.)
- Slowly drizzle in about 1 tablespoon of ice water and mix into butter-shortening-flour mixture to moisten. Add a little more water, gently mixing to moisten so dough is moist but not wet. Do not overwork the dough in this step, or your dough will be tough!
- Gather into ball, flatten into a and wrap with plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before rolling out and using.
- Roll out pie dough to fit pie dish with a little overhang. Crimp edges decoratively.
- BAKE THE CRUST: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 deg C). Pierce bottom of the crust with tines of a fork to prevent air pockets or bubbles from forming while baking. Line the crust with a couple of layers of aluminum foil overhanging crust, then fill with pie weights. Refrigerate 30 minutes or freeze for 10 minutes, or until firm.
- Keeping pie weights in place, put pie crust on preheated baking sheet and reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake 30 minutes or until the crust is golden.**
- To help seal the crust and prevent sogginess, make egg wash by whisking egg yolk and milk/cream in a small bowl. Remove pie weights and foil from pie crust. Brush bottom and sides of crust with egg wash. Bake until egg wash is dry and shiny, about 5 minutes. Cool crust completely, then fill.
- MAKE THE FABULOUS FILLING: Add 2 cups of prepared strawberries to a small saucepan.
- Add sugar, cornstarch, water, vanilla extract, almond extract, lemon juice and salt. As the mixture cooks, mash strawberries until chunky. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and juices have thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes. My eye looks for what I call the "one second path" to check for the correct thickness. If scraping the wooden spoon across the bottom of the pot while cooking, you should see the sea of strawberries (the Red Sea, if you will) part for about 1 second, then coalesce. Or, you want the juices to coat the back of the wooden spoon. Cool until warm to the touch, then add remaining strawberries and balsamic vinegar. Stir mixture to coat fresh strawberries well. Spoon mixture into crust. Allow to set for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator before slicing and serving with fresh balsamic-spiked whipped cream.
- Store in the refrigerator.
** If using a glass or ceramic pie plate, do NOT put the cold plate into a hot oven. It will crack. Take the plate plate out of the fridge/freezer for a few minutes to warm the plate slightly, then follow baking instructions.