**I grew up on a small farm in Joplin, Missouri and as a New Yorker I miss a lot of things about small town living. Strawberry season is pretty high up on that list. Don’t get me wrong, berry picking wasn’t easy, and it took fierce little girl determination to see the strawberry shortcake at the end of a long day’s work.
Thankfully, my father was in charge of most of the garden tending, but there were endless afternoons of pulling weeds and getting in trouble for leaving the hose on overnight. One of my Dad’s favorite argument-solving tactics for his disagreeing little girls was “go into the garden and pick rocks until you’ve settled your differences!”
My sister and I were smart little cookies, but our stubbornness won out most of the time. We would pick up and discard rocks from the freshly tilled dirt in furious silence for hours until one of us would cave.
Onto the family strawberry harvests! Everyone had an important job. We all picked the berries, which was fun because you got those palm-to-mouth treats while you worked. We had contests of who could fill up their quart baskets the fastest.
Once back inside the kitchen, someone washed, someone stemmed, an adult would quarter the berries with a paring knife, and my favorite part was adding the sugar! Then Mom carefully filled up stacks of pint containers for the freezer.
As farm kids we were rewarded all year long with those ruby jewels and their syrup. They found their way into many strawberry shortcakes, my Mom’s famous strawberry cake, strawberry rhubarb pie, and as a delicious sauce over vanilla ice cream!
I would give anything to have those childhood garden chores again and to have that precious time with my family. I’ve lived in New York City as a personal chef for almost 20 years. I’ve eaten a lot of strawberries during that time and none of them taste like those berries from home. **
So I’ve spent the last two weeks with my parents in Joplin, Missouri. When I’m home I am obsessed with the sky, more specifically - the daytime clouds. Yes, the sunsets are spectacular and the endless starry Midwestern sky is like something out of the movies, but the billowy, white, puffy clouds just knock me out.
I’ve been snapping cloud photos this whole week in between the biblical rains and 90 degree blistering full sun and cloudless days. I got some beauties. I knew I would include them in the blog this week.
The clouds had me thinking about the billowy, white, puffy dessert Pavlova. It’s made of egg whites and sugar baked into a meringue and spread with whipped cream and berries. I added strawberries and eggs to the grocery list.
And then a few days ago two little miracles happened. There was a knock on our door and my parents’ friend Laurel had just come from a strawberry farm and brought us five pounds from her thirty-two pound haul!!!!
And THEN a car pulled up and my hometown besties Shaun and Christy brought us a dozen eggs from their chickens! This Pavlova had practically made itself!
As you read these words, I will be on an airplane headed back to New York City. It’s been an exhausting but fulfilling time at home. I’m sure I’ll sleep the whole flight dreaming of my parents and strawberries with my head in the clouds, quite literally.
**This was an essay I wrote for the Midwestern lifestyle magazine Driftless a few years ago.**
Pavlova With Strawberries
- 4 large egg whites
- 1 cup cane sugar
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
- 3 cups strawberries, stemmed and quartered
- 2 tablespoons cane sugar
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the egg whites in a medium sized bowl. With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites on medium speed until they hold soft peaks. Start adding the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat, on high speed, until the sugar is dissolved (no longer grainy to the touch) and the meringue holds very stiff and shiny peaks. Sprinkle the vinegar and cornstarch over the top of the meringue and gently fold them in with a rubber spatula. Spread the meringue in the shape of a circle on the parchment paper, smoothing the edges, making sure the edges of the meringue are slightly higher than the center. (You want a slight well in the center of the meringue to place the whipped cream and fruit.)
Bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until the outside is dry and is a very pale cream color. Turn the oven off and let the meringue cool completely in the oven. The cooled meringue can be made and stored in a cool dry place, in an airtight container, for a few days.
Just before serving gently place the meringue onto a serving plate. Pour the whipping cream into a medium sized bowl. Whip the cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Blend in the confectioner's sugar and then mound the whipped cream into the center of the meringue. Mix the strawberries with the cane sugar and gently spoon over the whipped cream. Serve immediately as this dessert does not hold for more than a few hours.