When we moved from Lodi to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania last July, I looked ahead at the 2009 calendar and pointed to the dates that I knew I would miss my old home town the most—between Easter Sunday and Mother's Day when there's water in the irrigation canal and strawberries everywhere.
Now, of course, I miss Lodi and my friends everyday. But, right now, when a long cold Pittsburgh winter is reluctantly giving way to a damp spring and I know the weather has warmed up in the San Joaquin Valley, my separation anxiety is at its peak.
I'm not helped when I remember that last year at this exact time, I watched Fido, Sparkle and Hoppy swim in the canal for hours. Then, when we were done, I drove two hundred yards to pick up a flat of strawberries, take them home and got to work in my test kitchen.
Until strawberry season in mid-June, I made ice cream, sorbet, yogurt, jam and shortcake. And the highlight dessert was a diner-style strawberry pie that merits a prominent place in any Paris patisserie's window.
And I guess Pittsburgh will eventually have strawberries, too. My neighbors tell me the season begins in late May and lasts for the blink of the eye.
When I moved away, I anticipated that one of the biggest drawbacks leaving the Lodi would be not having access to all the fresh summer fruit and winter citrus.
But I badly underestimated the extent. During my first months in Pittsburgh, I found inedible peaches and plums, cherries in plastic wrap packaged by the handful and lemons at nearly a dollar each. To think, I had a lemon and orange trees in my backyard!
I'm not sure what the quality strawberries await me. But I do know that your local Lodi berries are the top quality varieties that are solid red through and through.
If you can cut a strawberry in half, you can make this over the top classic.
Start with a single, blind-baked, cooled pie shell. Don't buy one in the store if you can possibly avoid it. And here's my helpful kitchen hint of the day.
In my previous food columns, I confessed to being pastry dough challenged. What I've discovered through continued experimentation is that the key to success is not your rolling technique or your choice of fat but instead the type of pie plate you use. For best results use a unglazed dish (this one) which for reasons understood by food scientists— but not me—minimize the dreaded pie dough shrinkage.
To begin your pie, use two quarts of stemmed but halved strawberries. For the best presentation, choose berries that have an identical shape.
Prepare a glaze by putting one cup of white sugar, two tablespoons of cornstarch and one cup of boiling water. Simmer until thickened. Then add one (3 ounce) package of strawberry flavored gelatin and cool completely.
Toss your berries with the cooled glaze. Then place the berries in a concentric circle, flat side down and pointed ends toward the center, starting at the center and working toward the outer edge of the pie shell.
Refrigerate the pie until it is set, from two to six hours. Then serve your pie as soon as possible. Don't refrigerate it. In other words, eat the pie all up immediately. You won't have any trouble with that, believe me.
And the best thing about your Mother's Day gift to Mom is that she will never forget it.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.