Celebrate Ontario Strawberries


Ontario strawberries are here (and the first local raspberries too). So we started gearing up for St. Lawrence Market’s annual Strawberry Festival (June 16th) by teaming up with the Market Gallery this week to make ‘Free Form’ Strawberry Rhubarb Pies with 40 high school students. The sweet-sour blend of strawberries and rhubarb is a classic Canadian pairing since they are both available around the same time of year and the soft, juicy berries balance the firm, tartness of the rhubarb – deliciously. And in this recipe, they’re encased in a rich buttery crust with a touch of cornmeal crunch.

This type of rustic pie is called ‘free form’ because it doesn’t use a pie plate but wraps the soft, pliable dough around the filling into a neat little circle. It’s an easy pastry to work with and is great for all summer fruits – from early mixed berries through peaches and apricots, all the way through to apples and pears. The pastry and cooking instructions stay the same but you may want to decrease the amount of sugar for the sweeter stone fruits and increase the second baking time a bit for apples and pears (poke them with a knife tip to tell if they are cooked enough.)

A little chef’s trick – if you find that the exposed fruit in the center is getting a little too dark during the last 15 minutes or so of baking, place a small square of tinfoil over top to protect it from the direct heat. Another little tip is to use ground almonds or hazelnuts, or crushed amaretti cookies instead of breadcrumbs to soak up the fruity juices.

One more thing – when using ripe local fruit at its peak, this is exactly the type of pie that juices run out of as it bakes, so make sure to use a rimmed baking sheet and parchment paper so the juices don’t get all over your oven or stick to your best pan. The pie might seem a little wet in the center when it comes out of the oven but as it cools, the juices will soak back in. Tasty things are often worth waiting for – like Strawberry Festival on June 16th. Until then, enjoy!

Makes 8 to 10 servings

2 cups thickly sliced strawberries
2 cups thickly sliced rhubarb
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup bread crumbs
1 tbsp butter
1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp water

Cornmeal Pastry:
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornmeal
2 tsp sugar (approx)
½ tsp salt
7 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3 tbsp sour cream
1/3 cup ice water

Cornmeal Pastry: In food processor (or bowl), combine flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt. With pastry blender or food processor, cut in butter until crumbly. Whisk together sour cream and water; gently stir or pulse into flour mixture until dough just comes together. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead several times to form smooth dough (dough will be slightly sticky). Wrap in plastic (flattening slightly) and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, toss together strawberries, rhubarb, sugar and flour. Set aside

Roll out dough on floured surface into 13-inch circle. Transfer to parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet. Spread breadcrumbs over center, leaving about a 3-inch border. Pile fruit on top; dot with butter. Fold uncovered edge over fruit, all the way around, pleating slightly (pie should now be about a 9-inch circle). Brush edges with egg mixture and sprinkle with additional sugar as desired.

Bake in preheated 425°F oven for 10 minutes; reduce heat to 375°F and bake 35 to 45 minutes longer, until crisp and golden. Let cool before serving.

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