Wednesday June 19, 2013 | 01:00 AM

Strawberries need no introduction, even to the kitchen naif who may appreciate their taste, texture and sweetness but knows nothing whatsoever about how to use  unless it’s something ready made.

At the height of the season (now through most of July), strawberries are everywhere in the markets followed by raspberries, blackberries and  ever-bearing strawberries

Pies are the usual suspect into which they get heaved about, usually mixed with rhubarb or a cornucopia of other berries as they appear in the markets.  Maine’s farmers’ markets offer lots of berry varieties from raspberries to blackberries; but their availability is fleeting.

But we’re lucky to have what’s known as the ever-bearing variety, a strawberry strain that’s cultivated well into the summer and early fall.  While most growers cultivate the short-season variety,  we have enough other growers who consider it worthwhile to cultivate the long-season berry. 

If you forage, now is the time to be on the lookout for wild strawberries; their flavor is intensely sweet

How to use strawberries is ultimately the real goal.  Of course there are pies, ice cream, cobblers, fools, crisps, shortcakes, jams and the like.  And as the summer progresses I’ll share some of my favorite recipes. 

For starters, though, here is a strawberry pie, as homespun as a patriotic Sousa march, and often found in old-fashioned diners or in old regional cookbooks.  What I like about this pie is that there’s no baking but rather a bit of stove-top preparation and choosing what kind of crust it goes into. 

I’m of two minds about the crust.  Traditional pastry dough is fine, but since the pie has to chill for an hour or two before serving, I find that cold pastry is less  appealing.  That’s why I’ll often make this with a cookie crust, which actually benefits from chilling. Either way it’s a great pie. 

Diner Strawberry Pie
Servings: 6 to 8

Single 9-inch pastry crust, prebaked or
Cookie crust (recipe follows)

Crust
8- to 9-ounce box store- bought vanilla wafers (see Note) to yield 2 cups crumbs
8 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put enough wafers (just about the entire box), in two batches, into a food processor and process until thoroughly crushed to fine crumbs.  (Alternatively put the cookies into a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin.)  Transfer to a medium size bowl.  Stir in the melted butter and mix until thoroughly combined.  (Note: Whole Foods store brand of vanilla wafers is a very decent cookie.)

Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate (preferably glass) and pat the crumbs into place, covering the bottom and sides of the pan.  Bake in the oven for 10 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before filling.

Strawberry filling
1 quart strawberries
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Salt, to taste
1 cup water
Heavy whipping cream
Vanilla extract
Sugar

Cut off the bottom of the strawberries so that they can be placed upright into the prepared pie shell.  Arrange them in concentric circles in the shell; if there are any bruised berries save them for the sauce.  You’ll need about half of the quart of strawberries to fill the shell.  Use about 1 ¼ cups of the remaining strawberries for the sauce. 

In a heavy saucepan mix the sugar, cornstarch and salt with a whisk until well combined.
Put the remaining berries into a blender or food processor and puree.  Add this to the sugar mixture.  Add 1 cup water into the blender or processor to rinse out what remains on the sides of the blender or  work bowl and add this to the berry-sugar mixture.  Stir to combine.

Over medium-high heat, stir the mixture until it just starts to bubble on the surface and thicken, stirring constantly; this will take about 5 minutes.  Once it’s bubbling, cook for 20 seconds and remove from the heat.  The berry mixture will have darkened in color to a deep strawberry red.

Here is the unchilled pie just after the fresh berries have been covered in the hot strawberry sauce

After chilling and ready to serve the color of the pie grows more intense and lustrous

Pour the hot sauce over the berries in the shell, covering all the berry tops so none show through.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably longer.  Serve with a dollop of whipped cream sweetened with sugar and a drop of vanilla extract.  To store, cover the pie with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated.  It will stay for about two days.

,The pie slices easily and stays firm and is the perfect summer dessert

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About the Author

John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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