Strawberries may grace the supermarket produce aisle all year round, but the juicy, brightly colored varieties that come around in late May and June are almost a different species, altogether soft and delicate and needing to be devoured as quickly as possible. You can smell their floral, candylike aroma at the market before even laying eyes on them.
Still, all strawberries have a place in the kitchen. The key is to know which to use when. Out-of-season berries are great for baked pies and cakes, since cooking or macerating them concentrates their flavor. But those in-season beauties are best used gently, in applications that accentuate their essence with as little heat and manipulation as possible.
That’s why, when strawberries are at their peak, it’s time to make a fresh strawberry pie.
This one starts with an easy, press-in cookie crust. Using store-bought shortbread minimizes the amount of time the oven has to be on in the summer, and the buttery cookies create a pairing reminiscent of strawberry shortcake. Keep in mind that some brands of shortbread have more sugar than others and may require a little less sweetener in the crust mixture. Graham crackers or chocolate wafers would be nice, too.
Inside is simply a mixture of fresh, quartered strawberries and a quick jam of cooked strawberries, strawberry preserves and cornstarch. Some recipes rely on strawberry gelatin to hold it all together, but, here, real strawberry is the star: The preserves help bind the filling, while adding even more fruit flavor. A quarter-cup of cornstarch may seem like a lot, but you’ll need it with those height-of-season gushers to ensure that the final dessert is sliceable. (Deep-dish fruit pies made with strawberries may taste good, but they can cascade like a burst dam when sliced.)
Finished with a cloud of lightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream, this pie is a sight to behold. All in all, its simplicity makes fresh strawberry pie so special. The fruit has been gussied up, but only enough to allow it to shine.
Recipe: Fresh Strawberry Pie