Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fresh Strawberry Pie (or Tart)

We've had beautiful weather in the city this week and summer finally seems to be on its way.  Every year, when the temperatures start to rise, my mind (and belly) turn toward fresh, simple food.  Corn on the cob, grilled chicken, and, of course, fresh fruit.  I've been craving some sort of summery dessert, something with plenty of berries.  Our local farmer's market had a fantastic price on 1 lb. strawberry packages this week, so I bought a couple of clamshells and went home to make a strawberry tart.  I used the same pastry recipe that I described in my Caramel Macadamia Nut Tart post.  For the filling of the tart, I used my great grandmother's recipe.  The one main difference between my tart and the original recipe was the quantity of strawberries; the recipe called for 1 quart of berries, but I used an additional 1 cup because the tart pan is a bit larger than a standard pie plate.  The following is the original recipe, as written by my great grandmother, for a pie:

Strawberry Pie:
1 quart fresh strawberries, washed and trimmed
Water
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
Single pie crust, blind baked and cooled

After the whole berries were washed and the stems removed, I measured out a generous cup and quartered them.  I put this cup of berries in a small saucepan over med-low heat and cooked them until they softened and released their juices.  I mashed them with the tines of a fork (although a potato masher would work well) to help them cook down faster.  After about 3-5 minutes of simmering, I strained the berries through a fine sieve into a measuring cup, really pressing to extract all of the strawberry juice.  I added enough water to this juice to total 1 cup of liquid, then added it back to the now empty saucepan.

I heated the juice over medium heat.  I mixed the sugar, salt, and cornstarch together and slowly whisked it into the juice, making sure that no clumps formed.  I cooked this glaze for several minutes until it was thickened and began to clear, then I removed it from the heat and let it cool while I assembled the rest of the pie.  I placed the remaining whole berries, pointy tips up, in the cooled pie shell.  Then I spooned the glaze over the berries, making sure to coat each one.  Once the shell was filled, the whole pie went into the refrigerator to chill.

I was so happy with this recipe.  No gelatin, no jam, no food coloring -- just everday ingredients that I already had in my kitchen.  Note: you should use a really sharp knife to cut this pie so the berries are easily (and attractively) sliced.  My one regret is that I didn't have any whipped cream to serve with this beautitul dessert.  I'm sure that this recipe could easily be modified to accommodate any type of summer berry you happen to come across.  I hope you will consider welcoming summer with a fruit pie of your own.  Be creative and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Crafty Outing: Fibers and Textiles at The Daniel Boone Home

My sister loves to be on the go.  Constantly.  I can always count on her to find any festival, fair, sale, show, or event worth going to within 100 miles.  So when she saw an advertisement for the 1840's Fibers and Textiles event at the Historic Daniel Boone Home in Defiance, Missouri, she knew I would be dragging her out to the country to look at fabric and fibers.  The Daniel Boone Home and Boonesfield Village comprise a National Historic Site that is now owned by Lindenwood University.  Boone, one of the most famous frontiersmen in American history, moved his family from Kentucky to Missouri in 1799.  The Boone home is four stories tall with limestone walls that are more than two feet thick (the settlers feared nearby American Indian tribes).  Boone House was actually owned by Daniel's youngest son, but Daniel spent most of his time there and eventually died in the home.  Gradually, private owners moved the dozen period buildings that comprise Boonesfield Village to the estate to enable visitors to get a more accurate picture of life in the 1800s.  (See http://www.lindenwood.edu/boone/).

Unfortunately, the event fell on an unseasonably chilly and dreary day, so the turnout was relatively small.  To get out of the cold and kill some time before the spinning demonstration, we wandered into the summer kitchen.  Re-enactors were preparing a meal for the volunteers using 19th century American cooking techniques.  Pies baked in stacked cast iron dutch ovens covered with glowing coals.  A pudding wrapped in linen was boiling in a kettle of water over the fire, a technique that yields a beautiful little pumpkin-shaped cake.  After the cooking demonstration, we stopped by the chapel, the potter's kiln, and the grist mill.  We roamed around the largely empty historic Sappington House and peeked in the windows of the Boone home. 
In Daniel Boone's brother's cabin, a group of musicians was playing songs from the 1800s.  One man was playing the bones, curved pieces of wood so named because they resemble rib bones.  He even let us try to play them, but we decided it was an acquired talent best left to the expert.

In the afternoon, my sister and I watched a demonstration on spinning and dying wool.  The speaker gave background information on wool, most of which I had just recently learned from The Knitter's Book of Woolby Clara Parkes.  The demonstration was really interesting; I had never seen anyone spin before and, frankly, it made me thankful for yarn shops stocked with pre-spun, ready-to-knit wool.  I don't think I would have quite enough patience to spin enough yarn for an actual project.  The speaker also spoke briefly about dying wool with natural dyes.  Her striped shawl contained a bold, red yarn that she hand-dyed using cochineal bugs.  The insects live in cacti and are used to produce a beautiful, vibrant dye but they are quite expensive (about $60/pound according to our speaker!).  Learning about the intensive process of transforming wool to colored yarn definitely explains the cost of quality yarn and gives me an immense appreciation of the women who did much of this work by hand before the industrial revolution.

My sister and I had so much fun on our little educational outing.  I hope you will consider visiting historic sites to learn about the past and appreciate the present.  You may even be inspired to pick up a new hobby.  Be creative and enjoy!