Lovers gift it to one another on Valentine’s Day. Children present it on Mother’s Day in a show of gratitude. It graces Southern tables to usher in springtime. And it was over a glistening slice of it that Nashville newcomer Dolly Parton had her first business meeting with country music star Chet Atkins. What dish could be special enough to mark such momentous occasions? Fresh strawberry pie, of course.
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t fall for this gorgeous slice of deliciousness. A deconstruction of the pie, made famous in these parts by the Shoney’s restaurant chain, reveals three ingredients that play off one another to achieve a pinnacle of cool, fruity, creamy flavor: strawberry slurry, whipped cream and strawberries—lots and lots of strawberries.
And those strawberries must be fresh. In South Carolina, peak strawberry pie time is April and May when berry-laden runners pop with ruby red color. Visiting U-pick farms to pluck the juicy, sweet fruit by hand or buying fresh-picked berries by the crate are springtime rituals for those eager to shake off the winter doldrums and celebrate the return of locally grown, fresh produce.
The components of fresh strawberry pie are pretty straightforward: a flaky, baked pie crust stuffed with fresh berries, then generously drizzled with a strawberry slurry of water, sugar and cornstarch. A couple of hours in the refrigerator to bind everything, then it’s ready to serve with a generous dollop of whipped cream. That’s it, folks.
There are variations, of course. Some make preparation a breeze and some add subtle citrusy notes. You can cut a few steps, add a little punch of flavor or make some substitutions and still end up with a classic strawberry pie. Instead of making a slurry with pureed strawberries, you can substitute a package of strawberry gelatin. Some recipes call for substituting some of the sugar and water with a can of lemon-lime soda. A few teaspoons of lemon juice are another common flavor booster. Not inclined to make pie crust? Go ahead and buy your favorite pre-made variety. Don’t want to whip your own cream? Pick up ready-to-use whipped topping instead.
The one ingredient you don’t mess with, though, is fresh South Carolina strawberries. During the season, you can pick your own or grab a ready-picked parcel from markets and farms across the state. Here’s an easy recipe for making fresh strawberry pie, followed by a list of growers and markets offering sweet, juicy, SC-grown berries. Call ahead to check availability.