Berry Happy to See Summer

My favorite strawberry field opened for picking yesterday. I have been watching the little gems gradually take on their crimson hue. They are easy to grow yourself, I have a half-dozen plants, but the wildlife typically gets to them before I do.

Over the years, I have tried to encourage company on my outings to pick strawberries. I’ve dragged my daughter out on two or more occasions, but the heat, the bugs and the stooping aren’t her gig. They aren’t a lot of people’s gig, but I enjoy it. If I can wear jeans, then I’m down on my knees, which isn’t comfortable, but you can cover a lot of ground quickly. The mounds are protected by straw, so you need coverage. If it’s hot, I go for a tennis or running skirt (shorts included) and do the picking squat I learned from watching a lot of immigrant woman in the fields. Genetically, I’ve got the hands and feet for field work (country Irish), but I am several generations removed from the actual labor. Observation needed to be my teacher.

One of the first recipes I make with local berries is a tart with lemon curd. There are many variations on this approach depending on your time commitment and interest. The easiest is to buy a jar of lemon curd and a package of mini tart shells from the grocery store. Dollop some lemon curd into the shell and top with an inverted berry (like a pyramid).

tart shell

I always keep a box of these in my pantry. I prefer to make my own lemon curd (think of the filling in lemon bars) because I like mine on the tart side and I find commercial jars are too sweet. But it is a recipe that can go south on you quickly if you don’t pay attention to the double boiler.

You can top with any berry combination. The trick is to melt about a tablespoon of apricot jam in the microwave and mix it with the berries. That will make them glossy when you put them on top.

I recently tried a microwave lemon curd recipe I found on the New York Times site by “Microwave Gourmet” author Barbara Kafka:

  • ½ pound unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated or chopped lemon zest (typically 2 lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated or chopped orange zest, optional
  • 6 large eggs
  1. Place butter, sugar, lemon juice and zests in an 8-cup glass measure or a 2 1/2-quart soufflé dish. Cover tightly with microwave plastic wrap. Cook at 100 percent power in a 650- to 700-watt oven for 4 minutes. Prick plastic to release steam.
  2. Remove from oven and uncover. Whisk together eggs in a small bowl. Whisk about 1/4 cup of the butter mixture into the eggs to warm them. Scrape egg mixture back into measure, whisking constantly. Cook uncovered for 3 minutes.
  3. Leaving dish in oven, whisk until smooth. Cook, uncovered, for 2 minutes more. Remove from oven and puree in a food processor or blender until completely smooth. Store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

 

The recipe works, although you do have to see what power your microwave is and adjust. Mine is 1050 watts, but I couldn’t just reduce the time by one-third. The overall time remained almost the same, but it took a fair amount of watching.

I prefer Ina Garten’s recipe, which takes about 5 minutes longer.

3 lemons
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
4 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup lemon juice (3 to 4 lemons)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Remove the zest of 3 lemons, avoid the white pith. You can do this with a vegetable peeler. (I prefer to just zest the lemons). Put the zest in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the sugar and pulse until the zest is very finely minced into the sugar.
Add the butter to the sugar and lemon mixture and pulse until light and creamy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the lemon juice and salt. Pulse until combined.
Pour into a 2-quart saucepan (it may look a curdled at this point, don’t worry). Cook over low heat until thickened (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly. The lemon curd will thicken at about 170 degrees,  or just below simmer. A suggestion from AllRecipes.com says that this will take about 6 minutes. Look for the first bubble. Remove from the heat. Cool. Refrigerate in a glass jar or bowl, covered.

lemon curd tart with fruit

If you are inclined to make a full-sized tart, I’d recommend a shortbread crust, which is super easy and you don’t have to roll. You just press it in. I like this recipe from AddAPinch.com:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup powdered sugar

If you are using unsalted butter, which I typically do, you will need to add about 1 teaspoon kosher salt.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together butter, flour, and powdered sugar (and salt if using unsalted butter). Press into the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking pan, a pie plate, tart pan, or other pan for your baking.

Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.

Remove from oven. Let cool completely before filling.

 

You can e-mail Marnie at marnie@marniemeadmedia.com.

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