Monday, June 27, 2011

Readers, I am about to tell you a very long story with a lot of digressions. Stay with me, though, because this is what you get at the end:

Our story begins with a bunch of arugula from this week's CSA pickup. Normally, salad greens like arugula are sort of a relief for me - I don't have to do anything more creative than whisk up a vinaigrette and may throw some cheese or some nuts or some other stuff on top. Boom! Dinner is served. But there's something about arugula that throws me off. I love the slightly bitter taste, but the texture... not so much. Arugula pesto makes quick work of that problem, though - once the slippery leaves are whirled around in a food processor with walnuts and pecorino cheese and a tiny bit of raw garlic and lots and lots of olive oil, they're completely transformed.

Now what to do with this pesto?

I had picked up some cheese tortellini after work on Friday, knowing that I was heading upstate to go strawberry picking on Sunday with my better half Ed, Emily of Nomnivorous and her friend Autumn. We'd all talked about packing picnic food and I thought a cold tortellini salad would be an easy way to make something sort of compact and filling and a little more interesting than a sandwich. I also thought it would be something that would be relatively easy to eat, should we find ourselves running late, needing to haul ass back to Brooklyn to get the Zipcar back on time and picnicking in a Honda Civic. (Which is, of course, exactly what happened. And yes, in case you were wondering, tortellini is very easy to eat while you're going 85 on the Thruway, especially when your partner shoves forkfuls of it into your mouth from the passenger seat.)

So anyway, we set off on this delightful fool's errand for the love of cheap strawberries. But not just strawberries, of course - we spent far more in expenses to get to our $2.75/lb strawberries than we saved, in the end. But oh, what we gained - a lovely morning drive up through the Catskill mountains, an hour and some change in the fields, getting our hands all stained with pink strawberry juice, straightening up to gaze at the ridiculously idyllic meadows and barn with a silo and pond with two geese... and then three heart-pounding, clock watching hours stuck in Sunday afternoon traffic back to New York, during which I made up all kinds of new swear words and used old ones in new ways. Sure, we could have gone to the farmer's market, picked up a few quarts of strawberries and said to the farmer, "Hey, do you mind if I pay you double for these guys?" But it wouldn't have been the same. It wouldn't have been An Experience.

You know what else is An Experience? Making strawberry jam. Don't get me wrong, I totally love the process and the result and I'm sure I'll be doing this once a year for as long as my pancreas holds out, but let me tell you. It is some hard work. I had originally intended to make a whole ton of jam and share with all of my friends and family, but after spending three hours tonight on a batch of jam that yielded three half-pint jars? Yeah, hell no. This shit is not leaving my kitchen. I didn't work this hard studying for the bar exam.

Anyway, about that pie. One thing that you may or may not know about me is that I am very into pie. I know that everyone is now into pie, and pie is the new cupcakes and all of that, but seriously, you can totally ask my mom, I have always been very into pie. Another thing that I'm really into is vintage cookbooks. I try to steal my mom's ancient seventies-era Betty Crocker cookbook every time I'm at her house, but she's learned and now she searches my luggage for purloined cookbooks on my way out. When Ed and I were in New Orleans, we stumbled across this amazing store called The Kitchen Witch or something like that, and it was full of old cookbooks and Junior League recipe binders and stuff like that, and everything was dirt cheap and I absolutely could not believe my good fortune. But I didn't want to carry stuff around so we left without buying anything and all week I was like "WE HAVE TO GO BACK THERE" but we never made it, so now we just have to go back to New Orleans. Which shouldn't be a problem because, hello, New Orleans.

Wow, I digress and we're not even halfway to the pie yet. So Jessica brought me this raspberry cream pie from Briermere Farms on Long Island the other day and it was so good, I can't even describe it. And I want to recreate it SO BAD, because Riverhead is so far away and as it turns out, Zipcars just give me mild anxiety attacks about being charged for late returns, so the likelihood of me getting another pie any time soon is very, very low. So... I Googled. And picked the recipe for berry cream pie which sounded the most like the Briermere Farms pie, though - spoiler alert! - in the end it turned out to not be much like it at all.

Here is where our story all comes together - this recipe for Strawberry Cream Pie is actually from a 1960's era Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. I found the recipe on The Cooking Photographer's blog, and the writer mentions that by the seventies, BH&G had revamped their cookbooks to include easier, quicker recipes for the working woman of that era. I can see why - after a long day at work, shoving pastry cream through a sieve and boiling down strawberries and cornstarch into a glaze - not to even mention the cutting and arranging of the strawberry petals - made me want to go back in time and give Betty Friedan a giant hug. But there's also something kind of cool about making something so labor intensive and retro and ultimately very pretty. I could totally see myself in 1959, putting on a frilly apron and heels and meeting my man at the door with this pie and a cold martini.

In 2011, though, I think I'd better just do the dishes before he gets home.

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