Weekend Baking

It didn’t get too terribly hot this weekend, so I was willing to have the oven running for a few hours this afternoon for some baking. I didn’t do focaccia or bread like I was thinking about since I overexerted myself yesterday a bit and my muscles were feeling a bit sore. I was galivanting all over on Saturday – I went up to Evanston to the farmers market with the Food for Thought book club ladies, then we hung out at Unicorn Cafe for awhile to discuss this month’s book, then I had to stop at Market Fresh Books (where I of course found some great deals) and then husband and I walked to the library and his favorite liquor store to resupply him with good beer. Whew – that was a lot of walking for a pregnant lady (laden down with market goodies and books as I was) so I decided low-key baking was a good idea.

First up was a batch of my Mason Jar Biscuits. No buttermilk in them at all (in our lactose-intolerant household), but you’d never know the difference –

I’ve had some macerated strawberries in the fridge from last week’s farmers market that were just begging for biscuits in order to become strawberry shortcakes. In my house, strawberry shortcake is always made with fluffy biscuits – no lethargic angel food cake-like product here. And maceration is a great way to preserve fruit that would otherwise go bad. The strawberries we get at the market are really delicate and only last a day or two at room temperature. I don’t like to refrigerate fresh strawberries because I think it just deadens their flavor – I want that sun-kissed taste. But last week, we only ate half the pint fresh and I desperately didn’t want to lose them. Then I remembered the wonders of sugar. If you cut fruit and add sugar to it (aka macerating) it will preserve it in its own juices for another week or two. You macerate fruit when you want to create a syrup from it as well, like for strawberry shortcake. So we cut the fruit, added a few tablespoons of sugar and then stuck it in the fridge until I could find the time to bake up some biscuits. And even though we didn’t have any whipped cream in the house, the strawberries and warm, fluffy biscuits completely hit the spot for dessert tonight.

But, I wasn’t done. My husband is a sucker for blueberries so he picked up two pints the other day at the store (no, he couldn’t wait until they show up at our market – he loves them too much). I wanted to do something special with them for him, and what’s better than pie? I stole a handful of them to put into his pancakes for brunch this morning (which worked out just fine for him) and the rest went into the pie.

A little of the juice bubbled over, but fortunately it wasn’t too much. And I always put my fruit pies on a foil-lined baking sheet while in the oven, to prevent terrible burning and awful cleanup should any juice mishaps occur (I’ve learned from the experience of not using the sheet and it was not a fun job to clean that oven!). And I always intend to do the lovely sparkly sugar coat on the top crust of my pies, and I always forget…

At any rate, I learned a really simple and ingenious way of thickening blueberry pies from Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons (the July Food for Thought book). He’s working with wild blueberries of course, but the principle applies equally to cultivated ones. Once washed, he tosses the berries with flour. This acts as a subtle thickener for the juice. I tried it, added sugar to the flour for a little sweetener, and the pie turned out amazing. No cornstarch, no tapioca flour – just plain old flour that you have on hand. This will be my standard method for thickening fruit pies from now on – you end up with a perfectly juicy interior without being thin and runny or thick and gummy. And I guess the pie ended up being pretty tasty, since my husband ate half of it in a single sitting.

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