There’s something very special about picking your own berries in the summer. It’s almost a sacred event to me, and I really geek out on it. You gain an entirely new respect for the thing you are harvesting, I think; I imagine this must be similar to what hunters feel (or at least I hope they feel this way) when killing animals for food. Even though berries don’t have feelings, I do feel like it gives you a new perspective on how amazing nature is and how much goes into putting those little plastic boxes of fruit on your grocery store shelves.
If you’ve ever picked your own berries, or fruit of any kind, you realize quickly how different it is from the sort you find in most markets, unless you buy all your produce from a farm stand. I applaud you if you do; I try to, but I’m not perfect. It took exactly twenty-five minutes in the strawberry fields the other day to remind me of the beauty and flavor of berries you pick yourself. Have you ever picked them on your own before? I know some of you have; they are sheer perfection, am I right? Yes.
My mom used to take us fruit-picking when we were little. Every year, in fact, was an endless cycle of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries in the summer, apples in the fall, canning, freezing, rinse, repeat. And so it was, every year, that we had fresh fruit, as well as a few bee stings, and some fairly dirty knees. But we had a great time, and although I wasn’t as proficient in geekery then as I am now (because back then, it was just fun), I realize that it instilled in me a healthy respect for fruit, and food, and farmers.
I am lucky enough to have a farm mere minutes away from me – Lakeview Farms – that grows fresh strawberries and raspberries, all pick-your-own. They’ll get it ready for you and help you pay for it when you’re done, but if you want what they grew, you have to get down on your knees and start snapping off some berries. I thought the Wee One would love to do this, as she’s beginning to appreciate how awesome fruit can be. Also, the girl is a carbon copy of her mother, and we love a project, so off we went.
She did very well at pick-assisting. If you have a three-year old or older, scurry them out to the nearest berry patch this summer. You’ll all be happy you did. How much fun does that look like? So much fun, I know. Besides, those little fingers can really get in under the leaves.
So after about a half hour of fun labor, we came home with several pounds of strawberries, all for under $5. I know, right? A little work has its rewards. Because we really did work for this, though, I knew I didn’t want to cover up the fierce flavor of these precious things in a cake or frosting, as I am sometimes prone to doing. No no; these deserves something special to showcase them.
Since we had just done galettes a few weeks ago, I thought I’d do a crisp this time. If you, like me, love the look and ease of those individual gratin pans with the handle, I’m guessing that you don’t get to use them nearly as much as you want to, especially in the hotter months. Well, voila: I use them for individual crisps, because their shallowness makes them perfect vessels for a fruit crisp. They’re deep enough to pile some fruit and struesel topping on, and still provide enough room to scoot a little ice cream on top of when you serve them. Which is exactly what you should do with these; vanilla ice cream.
I added some basil to the whole thing, as one of my most favorite things ever is strawberry basil jam. It’s not basil-in-your-face like a fresh pesto, but it gives the berries a little flavor lift, which is nice. It’s refreshing, I think, which is why I like to leave it until the end. If you’re not into basil, simply leave it off the top, because there’s none inside the berry mixture. Scatter as much or as little as you like, but I promise you it is delicious. I used the basil from my garden, which I haven’t had the chance to talk about yet, mostly because I am battling the vermin known as rabbits right now. Thanks to them, I’ve rolled my entire garden plot into a massive chicken wire Fort Knox, but I haven’t had much time to enjoy it yet. We’ll talk soon and I’ll tell you what I’m growing this year.
Happy berry season! Now get out there and find some. Take yourselves. Take your kids, if you have them. it beats standing on a playground in the heat with everyone else.
Individual Strawberry Basil Crisps
makes 8 5 1/2 inch round crisps (in individual gratin dishes, which are shallow 1 1/4 inches) or 1 9 x 13-inch baking dish.*
for the crumb:
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and frozen (or very cold)
- 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup old fashioned rolled oats (or gluten free oats)
- 2 tablespoons tightly packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- fat pinch kosher salt
for the filling:
- 8 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- juice of 2 lemons
- zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 5-6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade (optional)
*you don’t have to, but if you want more crumb on either the individual servings, or you’re making the large 9 x 13 pan version, double the crumb topping. You may have some leftover, but when is leftover crumb ever a “problem,” anyway.
make the crumb:
Preheat oven to 375˚F. Butter bottom and sides either 8 5 1/2-inch shallow gratin dishes or 8 4 1/2-inch ramekins.
In a medium bowl, add the flour and drop the frozen butter cubes in; toss to coat. Add the oats, brown sugar, granulated sugar and salt and use your fingers to rub the mixture together until it is evenly distributed and it resembles coarse crumbs. Work patiently; it doesn’t have to be perfect, but you want everything to be evenly combined. Place in the fridge until ready to top your crisps.
make the filling:
In a large bowl using a wooden spoon, stir together the strawberries, sugar, lemon juice and zest, and cornstarch until cornstarch has dissolved and everything is combined. Divide evenly into 8 5 1/2-inch shallow gratin dishes (usually about 1 1/2 inches deep) or into 4 1/2-inch ramekins that are 2 inches deep; either will work. Remove your topping from the refrigerator and mound it over your berry mixture, keeping it centered in middle and working outward, about 1/4 cup per dish.
Bake for 22-26 minutes on a rack centered in your oven; if you prefer, fit them all on a baking sheet for easy entry and removal, but I prefer to let them hang out on the oven rack. When they are done, you should bubbling fruit around the sides and golden crumb on top. Cool 15-20 minutes before serving. Serve at room temperature or warm, and top with basil strands just prior to serving.
Serving note: these crisps are exceptional with vanilla ice cream. If you choose to serve it with ice cream, you should have enough headroom on top to serve it directly in the gratin or ramekin, which is nice and makes for a pretty little self-contained dessert. If serving with ice cream, wait to sprinkle the basil until the ice cream is on top: it looks pretty on the whiteness of the vanilla, and the flavors match nicely together also.
Makes 8 servings. Certainly these can be stored for leftover nibbles/breakfast, but if you’re making them for a party, make them right before you serve them, and eat your leftovers privately in the 1-2 days which follow.
If you make this in a 9 x 13 dish, you probably could squeeze 12 servings out of it, but why deny yourself, really.