After corn, the next sign of summer’s bountiful harvest is when the U-Pick strawberry fields open for business. These acres of low bushes are spotted in rural communities across the south and you can get ripe berries for not much more than $5 for a 3-4 pints. Try finding that in the grocery store. Plus, you can pick what you want. Need smaller berries? Fine. Want the big honkin’ ones? Sure thing, cupcake. This was one of my favorite summer trips with my grandparents–up the road and over the interstate bridge to a little community called Sardinia where we would pick baskets and baskets full and return home to make jam. I remember that my grandmother would keep the baskets behind her kitchen table over the air vent to keep them cool until we used them. Late at night, I’d find my grandfather quietly cutting the tops off and slicing them into a plain white bowl before sprinkling them with those ubiquitous blue packets of sugar substitute.
As a kid, I was amazed by the fact that the berries became mushy in just a few minutes, and I just had to get a bowl for myself. Later, as an adult, I figured out that sugar is hygroscopic and actually pulls water out of the atmosphere and our luscious berries, which explains why it and salt tend to cake up when left open. Science aside, this pie was one of the rock stars in the dessert section of my mom’s recipe box and it’s every bit as good as the one served at Shoney’s. If you don’t know what a Shoney’s is, go use Google. It’s a restaurant with a legendary breakfast buffet. I remember going there a lot in the ’80s when I was little, and I remember having pie and getting the little Shoney Bear toy with the baseball cap.
I’m sure she got the recipe from a copycat book or from the lifestyle section of the newspaper. If you search for the recipe, you get a million results with the same ingredients of differing proportions. Enjoy!
by Jason Osborne
Refrigerated pie crust, prepared according to package directions
2 pints strawberries
4 tbsp strawberry gelatin
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp corn starch
1/4 cup prepared strawberry jam
Wash and stem berries. Leave whole or slice into halves depending on final presentation desired. Sift cornstarch and sugar into a medium saucepan. Add water and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture becomes thick and clear. Add gelatin and stir until combined. Arrange berries in pie crust and pour gelatin mixture over berries. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for a few hours until set. Serve with whipped cream.