i didn’t learn to drive until i was 21. while all my high school friends gleefully participated in drivers’ training, i hiked or biked. on those rare occasions that i needed a lift, my dad, then semi-retired, willingly obliged. i think he was just happy to get out of the house. he shuttled me to Saturday morning football games, where i played piccolo in the marching band. as an undergraduate living in Denver, i relied on my beloved, baby blue Gitane Mixte 10-speed for transportation; she and i were one. even when i got knocked off by a car driving too close to the curb. helmets? back then, we didn’t need no stinking helmets. well, we did. but i don’t think there was any such thing. regardless, we both survived and went on to have many wonderful adventures together. like this one.
soon after i earned my undergraduate degree, i returned to New England. by then, i’d learned to drive. bless my friend Janet for the grace and patience to teach me how to manage a stick. but early on this sunny summer morning, i headed out with a co-worker to pick strawberries. cars? we didn’t need no sticking cars. we hopped on our trusty bicycles, donning knapsacks in which we planned to stow our precious cargo. five miles later, we arrived at the farm.
we began picking berries, gingerly placing them in our baskets. when one basket became full, we grabbed another. we were having so much fun, we hadn’t noticed the temperature had risen. it was hot. and muggy. we paid for the strawberries and went to load our packs. gulp. how were we going to get all of these back to the house? carefully and strategically, we maneuvered the strawberry containers into the packs and placed the rest in the front basket of Susan’s old touring bike.
the canvas packs, heavily laden with strawberries, slowed our ride. both in great shape, even we gritted our teeth as we pedaled over the hilly streets. of course, we eventually made it back to my parent’s place. packs stuck to our shirts, shirts stuck to our skin. we looked at each other, grinned and unloaded the berries. i gave most of them to Susan, keeping just enough for me, mom and dad. i didn’t bake much then, but wish i had. because i would have been able to make the amazingly rich and flavorful strawberry pie recipe that follows, courtesy of Emily and Melissa Elsen of Four & Twenty Blackbirds.
these days, i buy Washington strawberries from local farms. no more pickin’ and haulin’ them home on my bike. i ride when i can, and i still love to feel the wind through my hair. even if it’s through the vents of a Giro.
Four & Twenty Blackbirds’ Strawberry Balsamic Pie
a recipe generously shared by pie goddesses Emily and Melissa Elsen
makes one delicious, 9-inch pie
for the crust (after years of searching, Emily and Melissa’s crust recipe is the best ever)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 pound (two sticks) of good-quality butter, very cold, chopped
1/8 cup of sugar
3/4 tsp spoon salt
1/2 cup (or more if needed) ice water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
for the filling: step one (presoak)
four to six cups of in-season, ripe strawberries, washed and quartered
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
for the filling: step two
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cups brown sugar
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
a dash or two of Angostura Bitters
several fine grinds fresh black pepper
to prepare the pie pan
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons sugar
for the topping
1 tsp heavy cream
1 tablespoon raw sugar
- whisk together the dry ingredients.
- with a pastry blender, combine the dry ingredients with the cold, chopped butter; be careful not to overwork.
- combine the ice water and vinegar; slowly add to the butter mixture by hand, being careful not to overwork.
- divide the pie dough into two discs, wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour.
- coat the cleaned, sliced strawberries with the 1/4 cup white sugar and 1/4 tsp salt; let soak for at least one hour, up to 3 hours. (the pre-soak stage will help release some of the juices from the berries and yield a less watery pie.)
- after soaking, drain the berries thoroughly and place in a large mixing bowl.
- combine the berries with the balsamic vinegar.
- add the Angostura Bitters and black pepper.
- add the brown sugar and cornstarch; combine gently and set aside.
- roll out one disc of dough and place in pie pan.
- dust the bottom of the crust with the tablespoon flour and 2 tablespoons of sugar.
- using a slotted spoon, scoop the filling from the bowl, allowing each scoop to drain most of its liquid before placing into the pie shell.
- continue filling the pie shell until it’s even with the top edge of the pie pan.
- roll out the second disc of dough and cut into 7 – 8 strips.
- weave the strips on top of the pie, forming a lattice.
- preheat oven to 400F.
- while the oven is heating, whisk the egg and cream.
- with a pastry brush, coat the entire top of the pie with the egg mixture.
- sprinkle the top of the pie generously with raw sugar.
- place the pie on a cookie sheet (critical step to keeping your oven free from burning pie filling).
- bake for 20 minutes at 400F on the bottom oven rack.
- reduce heat to 350F, and bake on the middle oven rack for 35 – 45 minutes more, checking for browning throughout the baking process.
- if the crust edge begins to brown too much, gently cover the pie with foil.
- the pie is done when filling begins to bubble, and the crust is golden brown.
allow to cool before slicing and devouring.