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The Frugal Cook: Berries

September’s frugal cooking suggestions by Christine (Amina) Benlafquih are sure to make you berry happy.

What’s In Season
Plenty of summer produce is in season during the month of September. Keep your eye out for locally grown sweetcorn, runner beans, artichokes, beetroot, broccoli and watercress. Fresh herbs should be in abundance, too, so plan dishes which call for aromatic seasoning with thyme, tarragon, basil, rosemary, mint or sage. A range of different fruits is also available. Make a mixed fresh fruit salad or simply keep a rotating selection of sweet seasonal picks, such as cherries, apricots, melons, plums and raspberries.



Tip of the Month: Freeze Summer Berries and Fruits

Summer fruits should still be at their prime in August, but knowing that their availability will soon decline might motivate you to buy in bulk and freeze the fruit to enjoy later in the year. Watch for sales at your local grocery store, or plan a weekend trip to a farmer’s market to stock up on seasonal favorites. Even though your intention may be to freeze your purchases, be sure to select the same unblemished, ripe fruit that you’d find ideal for fresh eating.


Prep the fruit for freezing by washing, peeling, coring, hulling and chopping as desired. Small fresh berries will need only a washing and thorough draining.


Dry-freezing fruit: Dry-freezing allows for easy portioning after the fruit is frozen. It’s my method of choice when freezing berries by type, or when freezing cut-up mixed fruit to have on hand for shakes, smoothies and other fruit juice blends. Spread the washed, prepped fruit on plastic-lined trays or baking sheets. You can crowd the pan but try not to let the fruit touch. Cover loosely with a layer of plastic and place in the freezer until frozen hard, several hours to overnight. Transfer the frozen fruit to a freezer bag or plastic container and quickly place back in the freezer before it can begin to thaw.


Sugar-pack freeze: Here the fruit briefly macerates in sugar before it is frozen. Because of this, it will freeze in solid packs so it is best to portion it out according to its anticipated use. Prep the fruit as desired then combine with granulated sugar at the ratio of approximately one-half cup of sugar to one quart of fruit. Leave the fruit to macerate for 15 to 20 minutes before dividing it into freezer bags and freezing. Be sure to label the bags with date, fruit and quantity.


Syrup-pack freeze: If you know you’ll be using the fruit for pies, jams, sauces, or other syrupy treats, you might like to take time to syrup-pack the fruit. Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water at equal measures, then cover the fruit with the syrup before freezing. As with sugar-packing, it’s best to portion out the fruit in advance.




Recipe of the Month: Strawberry Pie in Bulk

It’s still the season for strawberries and, if you love fruit pies, why not put together a bunch to have ready to bake at a moment’s notice? After all, it pays to be frugal with our time as well as our money. Buy some disposable aluminum pie plates for your baking fest, or invest in four metal pie plates which can be used again and again. Note that the same method can be used with other fruit pies; simply make the bulk pie dough recipe below, then adapt your favorite fruit pie filling recipe to accommodate four pies.




Ingredients for four double-crust pies
• 8 cups (1 kg) plain or pastry flour
• 2 tbs sugar
• 4 tsp salt
• 2 2⁄3 cups (500 g) vegetable shortening
• 2 tbs vinegar
• 2 eggs
• 2 cups ice water
Ingredients for fresh strawberry filling
(four pies’ worth)
• 16 cups fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
• 4 cups granulated sugar
• 1¹⁄3 cups flour
• 1 tbs ground cinnamon
• 6-8 tbs cold butter


1. In a very large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Add the shortening and cut it into the flour with a fork or pastry cutter until the mixture is sandy. Combine the vinegar, eggs and water and add all at once to the flour mixture.


2. Stir quickly with a fork until all is moistened (add a little more water, a tablespoon at a time, if necessary) then divide the dough into eight equal-sized balls. Chill for at least an hour before rolling out. If you wish to save the dough for later use, flatten each piece into a disc shape before wrapping well and freezing.


3. If desired, cut the strawberries in half. Combine the sugar, flour and cinnamon and mix lightly with the strawberries. Immediately proceed to rolling out the pie dough as described below.


To make the pies
4. Roll out four portions of the dough; fit each piece into a pie plate, leaving the excess dough to hang over the edges. Divide the prepared strawberries among the four pie plates. Dot the top of the strawberries with bits of cold butter.
5. Roll out the remaining four portions of dough and fit them over the strawberries. Pinch the edges of the dough together to seal; crimp with your fingers or a spoon for nicer presentation. With a sharp knife, make several slits in the top crust of each pie so that steam can escape.
6. At this point the pies are ready for baking or freezing. To freeze, wrap with plastic wrap and place in the freezer until solid. If your pie plates are not disposable, the frozen pies may be removed from the pans and transferred to freezer bags.


To bake the pies
7. You can thaw the pies in the fridge if desired; otherwise, they can go directly from the freezer to the oven, although the crust may be a bit darker with the latter method.
8. Preheat your oven to 425° F (220° C). Brush the top of the pie with milk and sprinkle generously with granulated sugar.


9. Place in the oven on a baking sheet (to catch drippings) and bake until the crust is lightly browned and the filling bubbles up through the slits, about 35 to 45 minutes for a thawed pie, longer for a frozen pie. Cool on a rack before serving.




Christine (Amina) Benlafquih writes on varied topics including religion, food, health and culture. You can find more of her writing on the web at Moroccan Food at About.com (http://moroccanfood.about.com).