I made my great-grandmother’s strawberry pie for Father’s Day, so I thought I’d share this, which appeared in my “Across the Table” column in The Daytona Beach News-Journal on April 8, 2009.
During my last couple of trips to the farmers market, I’ve been confronted with an undeniable fact: It is time to make strawberry pie.
My foodie tendencies have long been tempered by health-nut tendencies, so I don’t make a lot of desserts. But if you ever have an occasion where you need to make eight people happy real fast, pie is the way to go. And since it’s usually made with seasonal fruit, the health nut is happy, the pie eaters are happy; it’s win-win.
I have a short rotation of go-to pies that change with the seasons – apple for fall into winter and any occasion involving my father-in-law; strawberry for spring; key lime whenever key limes happen and/or somebody visits from the north.
A buttery crust lined with cream cheese holds a filling made with fresh strawberries. Top with whipped cream and "be happy," as my mother said.
My strawberry pie recipe was passed down from my great-grandmother, “Mush,” to my mother, so it is called “Mush’s Strawberry Pie.” Mush was a master baker of all sorts of things, but I remember her as a sweet, spunky little lady who usually wore red, with a big red bow in her hair at Christmas, so of all of her recipes, strawberry pie seems to represent her best. My version of the pie has changed over the years. Mush didn’t have to go to an office all day; if she had and there had been the option at the time, I like to think she would have said, “Bring on the Cool Whip!”
If there’s an original copy of her recipe, I don’t have it. My copy came in a series of e-mails from my mother.
There are two problems with this. First of all, there are two kinds of cooks in the world, and my mother was mostly the other kind. You know who you are: “Oh, I never measure anything. I just throw in a little of this, a little of that.”
I own a set of measuring spoons for “dash,” “smidgen” and “pinch” – and I use them.
I have a confusing collection of handwritten recipes from my mom with directions like “Put in oven and bake.” Um, at what temperature? For how long?
The second problem is my mom and e-mail. She was not yet on friendly terms with the computer when the strawberry pie conversation took place. She sent the recipe in a series of brief dispatches because, she said, the computer kept “good-bye-ing for no good reason.”
So now, in a photo album I use for collecting recipes, there is a page with four strips of white paper, lined up one beneath the other, that together form my strawberry pie recipe.
“Spread cream cheese, softened with some cream (the ingredient list was unclear … I forgot, it’s real whipping cream) over cooled pie shell…”
It was during the year we were planning my wedding, so between the filling and the crust there is talk of our plan for a honeymoon cruise.
“Sounds great, the cruise. I don’t think you can mess up a cruise too much, unless it sinks! Just takes two happy people!”
I suspect Mom learned to make the pie from Mush without using a written recipe. If has had a recipe for the crust – Mush probably would have used shortening – she had found one she liked better.
“I did a butter-mostly crust. It was heavenly.” This was followed by instructions for “Easy Pie Crust.”
We lost my mom to cancer in February of 2008, so there was no strawberry pie last spring. But this year, it seemed that there were strawberries everywhere and it was time to make pie. So I bought some berries and pulled out the recipe, rolling out the dough with a lot of memories, and made the pie, just as the e-mails directed.
“Serve with whipped cream. And be happy!”
Mush’s Strawberry Pie
1 cooled 9-inch pie shell
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened with a little cream or half and half
1 quart fresh strawberries
Splash of lemon juice
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Spread the cream cheese in a thin layer on the bottom and sides of the cooled pie shell.
Hull berries. Place some, point side up, around cheese-coated pie shell. Mash remaining berries with potato masher in medium saucepan. Mix together sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Bring strawberries to a boil and slowly add the sugar and cornstarch. Cook 5-10 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture is translucent and thickened. Cool and spread over uncooked berries in the pie shell. Chill in refrigerator until cold. Top with whipped cream and serve.
Easy Pie Crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cake flour
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 tablespoons chilled shortening
3 tablespoons (or more) ice water
Blend first four ingredients in a food processor. Add butter and shortening and pulse until mixture resembles course meal. And ice water and process until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if needed. Gather dough into a ball, flatten into a disk and refrigerate for 1 hour. Soften dough slightly at room temperature before rolling out. Roll out dough on floured surface to a 12-inch round. Transfer to a 9-inch glass pie dish. Fold edges under and crimp.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prick the bottom of the pie shell all over with a fork. Line the shell with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake 15 minutes, and then remove foil and beans. Prick shell again with fork. Continue baking until golden brown, 5-10 minutes more. Cool completely before filling.