I never really knew where the boxes came from. Mommaw would get a phone call and send us to the front door, and there one would be, a flat of strawberries in a big cardboard box, sitting on the doorstep like an orphaned baby in a black-and-white movie. Waiting to be picked up and fussed over. We’d carry the box to the kitchen counter, and she’d lean down into it, saying, “We’d better try one to make sure they’re any count.”
There’s nothing like strawberries picked fresh from a farm. The ones that have had sun on their faces that day. They’re wildly sweet and tender, and they give off a perfume you can smell 10 feet away. As intoxicating as a first kiss from someone who knows how.
We’d eat them warm, straight out of the box, until our hands were sticky and dyed red from the juice, and then we’d work in the kitchen together, slicing, sugaring and storing the mountain of berries still left in the box.
Most of Mommaw’s friends, the ones who’d pick up a box of berries for her when they went to the strawberry farm, surrendered their car keys while “The Nanny” was still on TV, so now Mama’s the one who makes the strawberry runs. A few weeks ago, she invited me to ride along for the 30-minute drive to the big barn with the huge wooden strawberry out front to help her fetch three flats of berries – one for Mommaw, one for me and one to deliver to another doorstep.
When we pulled in, it was pouring rain. A frazzled woman who looked like she was locking up the place saw us and popped the front door back open. From inside the truck, I could see exactly three flats of strawberries waiting on the wooden table inside.
And then another car pulled up next to us.
I’ve never seen Mama move that fast.
She bolted inside to the table and grabbed a flat of berries. I did the same. Then we looked at each other, silently debating whether to snatch up the third or leave it for the couple who’d rushed in behind us.
We left the third flat. It was the Christian thing to do.
But the man walked right by us and barked at the cashier, “I don’t care what you have to do, but we’ve got to have two flats. We drove all the way from Nashville.”
I was fully prepared for Mama to send me back to the cashier to surrender the strawberries I was carrying, but apparently something about that couple’s sense of entitlement didn’t sit right with her. She caught my eye and mouthed one word.
We ran like hell, threw the berries in the backseat, and Mama floored it all the way up the farm’s gravel driveway to the road.
BEST. BERRIES. EVER.
Even Mommaw said so.
I took my share of the spoils and picked through the best to make this White Chocolate-Strawberry Pie. It’s a basic graham cracker crust filled with a sweetened mixture of cream cheese, yogurt and melted white chocolate and crowned with fresh strawberries.
It tastes like childhood memories, first kisses and victory.
White Chocolate-Strawberry Pie
Slightly adapted from Ken Haedrich’s “Pie”
Makes one 9-inch pie (8 servings)
- 1 Graham Cracker Crumb Crust (recipe below) or 1 small store-bought graham cracker crust
- 3/4 cup white chocolate chips
- One 8-ounce package cream cheese (regular or light), softened
- 5 tablespoons sugar
- 1/3 cup plain or vanilla yogurt (regular or light)
- 1 quart (1 1/2 pounds) fresh strawberries, rinsed and patted dry
- 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
- Prepare the crust according to the recipe below (or prebake your store-bought crust according to package directions). Let it cool, and refrigerate until ready to use.
- For the Filling: Put the white chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler set over, not in, hot water. When the chips are shiny, 7 to 10 minutes, stir well until smooth. Remove the insert from the double boiler, and set aside to cool.
- Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
- Gradually add the sugar, and continue to beat.
- When the white chocolate has cooled to body temperature, add it to the cream cheese. Blend until evenly mixed.
- Add the yogurt, and blend until smooth.
- To Assemble the Pie: Spoon the cream cheese mixture into the chilled pie shell, and smooth it with a spoon. Cover with loosely tented aluminum foil, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Sort through your strawberries, and pick out as many same-size berries as you can find. Hull them, and take a very thin slice off the stem end (so you’ll eventually be able to stand them upright on the pie filling).
- Arrange the berries in a single layer on top of the filling, cut sides facing down. Refrigerate.
- For the Garnish: Melt the white chocolate chips in the microwave. Let cool, then spoon into a pastry bag fitted with a fine tip. Pipe a thin drizzle of white chocolate over the pie in any pattern you choose. Serve immediately, or cover with loosely tented aluminum foil and refrigerate until serving, preferably less than 1 hour.
Note: If you don’t have a pastry bag, spoon the melted white chocolate into a plastic sandwich bag, and push the chocolate to one corner. With sharp scissors, snip a very small hole in the corner, and use it as a pastry bag.
Graham Cracker Crumb Crust
Makes one 9-inch pie
- Butter, for greasing pie pan
- 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (made by grinding 12 whole crackers)
- 2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Big pinch of salt
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9-inch standard pie pan, and set aside.
- Combine the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Mix briefly with your fingers. Add the butter, and incorporate well, mixing first with a fork, then with your hands, rubbing thoroughly to form evenly dampened crumbs.
- Spread the crumbs evenly and loosely in the pan, pressing them into the bottom and up the side. Refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Place on the center oven rack, and bake for 7 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate the cooled pie shell before filling.