So last week, I’m squatting in between rows at Thompson Finch Farm, sweaty, hot, knees soaked, shoving my box ahead of me.
It was my second time strawberry picking, and this time I wasn’t alone, but talking to a friend who was one row over, she also pushing her box ahead of her. Joey was somewhere over there, sometimes a hat poking out over the rows, other times lying in the straw between rows making strange arty videos with his phone. There were girls, our two and two more sisters we’d brought along, and Sadie and one of the sisters picked like champs, filling two boxes between them with a sense of purpose and responsibility. A few rows down, Rosie and the other sister ate strawberries and talked about Dance Moms or lip balm or I’m not even sure. There was a whole preschool class further down in the field, all in tiny sun hats, most crying, the others sitting in a circle in the path eating popcorn and trying not to cry. There was a woman there all in white, standing over the field while her family picked, shielded by an umbrella and looking gorgeous in tall green Hunter boots.
There were so many strawberries, you could almost see red in the field. But we stopped when we had as many as we could pay for, and then we piled our boxes in the hot van and we immediately stuck to the seats and blasted the AC and drank warm water from water bottles we’d forgotten to take with us into the field.
It was the very first day of freedom after school ended. The girls were taller than the day before, now in 5th and 7th grade. The wave of expectation had already hit–is still here–that moment of possibility and goals and summer wishes stretching ahead. That night after getting all the strawberries in the freezer, we’d sit together on the couch on the back porch and make our annual summer list. Every year, we go around and say the big and small things we hope for until we’ve filled a page and we can’t think of anything more.
More bike riding training for Freida paint the front door Rosie turquoise hair lobster roll Amenia drive-in cupcake making river blueberry hill…
There is both an up and a down to these annual lists, a sense of openness and optimism paired with the sad fact that we never, ever, make it through all the items. The summer is too short, and yet, we’re usually ready for it to end when it does.
But right now, it’s wide open.
I was thinking about the word “seasonal” this week. The grocery store in my town had a bit flag up–local! seasonal!–and I understand why, but I think in my less compassionate moments those words make me feel a little weary. Somehow they evoke for me images of fancy restaurants with lots of asparagus on the menu, or headlines on food magazines. But driving back from Thompson Finch with a full van of sweaty kids, I thought about how we always pick strawberries in the week after school ends. That beginning of summer list always pairs up with the eating of strawberries, and that week the elderflowers on the side of the yard always bloom, and a week later there are always sour cherries on our tree out front. This is the week we start eating garlic scapes, and next week, heading into July 4, we might pick one more time, because the first hot week of July is always the last week of strawberries. We eat seasonal foods–not on fancy restaurant plates–but in the midst of all the moments that make up the days. We eat strawberries when school is out, cherries in July when the house is too hot to tolerate, blueberries in August when the mornings start getting colder and misty. These flavors mix with the moments, and then we come to expect the taste of the berry along with each milestone of the summer.
I imagine that’s how my kids will find themselves eating a ripe strawberry in June someday decades in the future, and they’ll feel all the calm of a school year finished, the possibility of the summer to come, the fear of an unknown year ahead. At least, I like to imagine it. Because when strawberries are in season, so are the feelings that come with strawberries.
I don’t think it needs to be only organicseasonallocalperfect produce that carries this weight. Everything that we eat at a moment, the same moment every year, has this complicated side to it. Tiny snickers bars at Halloween are grey skies and full, dark streets of kids. Store-bought egg nog is that first week in December when it all the sudden seems like a really good idea to drink store-bought egg nog. Seasonal eating is smart and cheap and healthy and all that stuff. But it’s also a ritual. An important ritual.
I know we’re all in different seasons. Some of you had strawberries in May, and some of you are in the winter right now. But hello from here, the land of strawberries and possibility and summer lists. Wherever you are in the cycle, I hope there is something delicious to eat.
The night of our last strawberry picking expedition, I veered from the regular pie habit and made this tart. I started with a recipe from my friend Kristina’s wonderful book Pies and Tarts, and changed it due to what I had available in the fridge. It’s really phenomenal–the cream filling is like a substantial but cloud-like whipped cream, and tangy enough to really set off the strawberries. I used Kristina’s vanilla tart dough, but this one would be great here too if you’re pinched for time.
A Tangy Strawberry Tart
adapted from Kristina Petersen Migoya, Pies and Tarts
For the tart dough:
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the filling:
2 pints strawberries, hulled and halved (or quartered if large)
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt (or regular plain yogurt, strained for about an hour)
3/4 cup creme fraiche
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. First, make the crust. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream on low speed for about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, raise the speed to medium, and continue to beat until the mixture is light in color, about 4 minutes.
2. Whisk together the egg and vanilla in a small bowl. With the mixer running, gradually add the egg mixture to the bowl and beat, scraping down the sides occasionally, until the mixture is smooth, about three minutes. If the mixture seizes and the butter curdles a bit it’s okay–just keep going. Turn off the mixer and add the flour, cornstarch, and salt. Mix just a bit until the mixture comes together in a dough. Turn out onto a floured counter and shape into a disc. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour but up to overnight.
3. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter a 9-inch tart pan or a rectangular tart pan. You’ll have enough crust and filling to make an additional tartlet, so if you have a mini tart pan or something that can stand in for one, butter that as well. Roll out the crust on a floured counter, and transfer it to the prepared pan. Poke the bottom several times with a fork, line it with parchment, and weigh it down with beans or pie weights. Bake until firm, about 15 minutes. Then remove the parchment and weights, reduce the oven temp to 350°F, and continue to bake until golden, about 10 minutes more. Let the crust cool before filling.
4. While the crust cools, make the filling. Toss the strawberries with 1/4 cup of the sugar in a bowl and set aside.
5. Whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. In a separate bowl, stir together the remaining sugar, the yogurt, cream fraiche, and vanilla. Fold the cream into the yogurt mixture and spoon it all into the pre-baked crust. Refrigerate for an hour.
6. When you’re ready to serve the tart, spoon the berries over the tart, leaving any juice in the bowl (save it and use it for strawberry lemonade). Serve immediately.