July 5, 2011
I always like to start our “food themed” days off with a bang. So, for this first Tuesday of our summer holidays, I planned a few more activities than I would normally undertake on a single day. For “Strawberry Day,” I had four activities planned: making dough for strawberry handpies, painting with strawberries, filling and baking our pies, and, time permitting, making a giant jar of jam.
Early in the morning, before anyone else in the house was up, I took the dog for a walk to the local farmer’s market. In addition to our regular load, I purchased a flat (six little green baskets) of Ontario strawberries.
After breakfast, the kids started off the day with their yesterday books, and after that, it was on to a series of organized activities and independent play times.
Strawberry Day Activity #1: Making Dough for our Handpies
First, we worked on making the dough for our handpies. I’ve had this pate brise recipe written on a card for years…not sure where it comes from:
- 2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1-2 tbs sugar
- 1 c unsalted butter, cold and cubed
- 1/2 c ice water
In a food processor, we started to blend the dry ingredients, and then we pulsed in the butter until we had something like a coarse meal. [When we use the processor, by the way, I warn the kids away from the evil shark blade and direct them to push the ON, OFF and PULSE buttons at the bottom of the machine.] With the machine off, we added the cold water one tablespoon at a time, and then pulsed each tablespoon until the dough started to form into a ball.
We then separated the ball in two, flattened these into discs in plastic wrap, and put them in the refrigerator.[PS, if you’re trying this at home, you’ll want to remember to take the dough out of the fridge about 45 minutes or so before you want to roll it out.]
Then, I had the kids take a break and play independently while I got the supplies out for our other morning activity: painting.
Strawberry Day Activity #2: Painting with Strawberries
This was a fairly simple activity. I got out some bottles of poster-paint and placed a giant dollop of paint on each of five paper plates. [All of our kiddie plates were in the dishwasher, or I would have worked with a reusable option!] On each plate, I placed a couple of strawberries.
I called the kids to the table, put some construction paper in front of them, and told them to use the strawberries as if they were both stamps and paintbrushes. The big “rule” here was that they were not allowed to squeeze or smash the berries onto the page, as it would wreck their tools as well as their work.
As they painted, the kids noticed that the strawberries did not leave a distinctive strawberry or stippled mark on the page. We figured that this was due to some combination of our thick paints the stiff construction paper. As they continued, they started to make bolder strokes instead of the stamps they had made at first.
We hung up their artwork on the portable clothesline, as we do both inside and out when we’re doing art projects.
Activity #3: Making Strawberry Handpies
Strangely, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands on the day. It was a full two and a half hours after lunch when I finally called the kids down from independent play to make the strawberry handpies. My son decided to opt out of these activities in lieu of tracing comic book covers upstairs. He’s not a huge pie fan, anyway. So, my daughter and I carried on.
We preheated the oven to 375. Then, we made a simple filling by chopping about 3 1/2 cups of strawberries and putting them into a bowl with 1/4 c of sugar, 1/4 c of flour, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Bea helped me stir the mixture and set it aside while we rolled out our dough and cut it into geometric shapes.
This is the point in the day in which I realized that my daughter has become capable and adept with her hands! We placed a dollop of the strawberry mixture on one side of each shape. I taught her word the phrase “line of symmetry” meant along the way!
Then, we spread a bit of egg-wash on the edges of the dough and folded them over in true turnover fashion. We patted down the edges with fingers and, then, the tines of a fork. Finally, we placed these pies on parchment-lined cookie sheets, and I set them in the oven for 25-30 minutes.
They looked, smelled, and tasted fantastic!
Strawberry Day (Bonus) Activity #4: Strawberry Jam
It was truly a banner day. When we finished with her pies, my daughter was still full of energy and wanted to attempt to make strawberry jam (as we did in last summer’s version of Strawberry Day). I hadn’t really thought that we would get to this activity. I figured that I might do it in the evening as a way of settling down with a bit of “stirring.” So, we had to spend a while coring (I let her use the strawberry huller, with some guidance) and slicing the rest of the strawberries. We didn’t take the time to let the strawberries soak in sugar, as many recipes suggest you do. Instead,we dumped them into a pot with some lemon juice and about 1/4 the strawberries’ volume in sugar. (I think it was an 8 to 2 cups ratio – we could have likely added less sugar). Then, I let my daughter stand on a stool and use the potato masher to do some preliminary mashing of the berries while the heat was on a very gentle simmer.
Once the strawberries started boiling, however, I sent her upstairs to play and manned the fort until the jam reached the desired thickness (it took about 45 glorious, relaxing minutes of singing and stirring the pot). Since this was meant to be jam the kids could eat within the next few weeks, I skipped the canning process. I simply placed the jam in a large, clean mason jar, and secured it with a fresh canning lid. I stood the jar of jam upside-down for the first 15 minutes of its cooling off period. Then, I upended it and left it on the counter for us all to admire.
So, that was Strawberry Day – likely the most epic of our summer “food days” – and in every way enjoyable.
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