I wish I did a better job with the 4th of July. I don’t get nearly so excited for it as I do for Syttende Mai. And I have yet to coerce my friends into parading around the neighborhood with me to celebrate America’s independence. I think maybe it’s because I don’t get excited about fireworks or watermelon. When I say this people look at me like I’ve told them I don’t like puppies or those huge-eyed insanely adorable little bushbabies. It’s not that big of a deal people. And, I maintain fireworks aren’t that exciting. Well, except for this one summer in Norway when I was around 10…My uncle decided we should celebrate the 4th of July American-style with a bunch of fireworks that he had purchased (I think illegally). Most of them were your standard sort of small fireworks that spray small cascades of sparkling red, green, and yellow and then fizzle. But somehow he had found one that stood out with its intimidating heft. It was called “the bomb.” It had four large components, connected to one another, each containing explosives that the description claimed would shoot hundreds of feet up in the air and burst into fiery blossoms.
We propped it up, precariously, in front of our cabin using some small rocks. My uncle lit the fuse and we all stood back. The first pod shot up and burst with all the splendor of a professional firework (at least to a ten year old’s eyes). However, its force knocked the rest of the packaging free of the supportive rocks. It toppled and, bang, bang, bang! The next three explosives rocketed into bushes in our yard and the neighbors. It had been a dry summer, and WOOSH, the bushes instantly went up in flames. We started yelling and scrambling to find buckets. We hollered to our neighbors who came running out and threw their hands up in the air, seeing their bushes ablaze. We half expected the voice of God to start ordering us around through the dancing flames in the bushes. But, finding this didn’t happen, we began a bucket brigade from the shower to douse our bushes while the neighbors cranked up their hose and snuffed theirs. All in all we made quick work of the fires, but the level of excitement and clamor far exceeded that of a standard holiday – even Christmas! To children who had never been to a theme park besides Legoland it was like a thrill ride, or a scene from a movie come to life!
When the fires had died and the charred skeletons of the bushes cooled enough (and we had repayed the neighbors with ample amounts of beer and ice cream for being remarkably good humored about the whole ordeal) we went to explore the remains. We discovered what looked like the scene of a grizzly battle. Forgotten until that moment, my little brothers had set up an elaborate encampment of Lego soldiers inside one of the very bushes that we had torched. Their yellow plastic skin was blackened and melted, an ill-fated brigade. According to the boys it was “awesome.”
Since then, neither other 4ths of July nor other fireworks have been nearly so memorable.
This is my tribute to this year’s 4th, a truly lovely (lovely in flavor – aesthetically, I kind of screwed it up) Finnish strawberry tart. I learned to make it from one of my dearest friends whose husband is Finnish and who has spent the last couple of years teaching in Finland. She made this tart for a recent wedding shower. I took one bite and immediately started begging her to give me the recipe. It is simply dripping with the flavors of summer in the land of the midnight sun. The deliciously light and crumbly, almost cakelike, crust is incredibly easy, and you press it into the pan, so you don’t have to fuss with rolling anything. And the filling doesn’t mess with the strawberries too much, it just lets them shine cleanly through, juicy and sweet, but eons away from cloying. I had too many strawberries (for the recipe. Too many strawberries overall is just not something that is possible) so I decided to try to use all the crust dough for the bottom in a larger pan, and use all the fruit. It would have worked…except that I assembled the pan wrong, so when I tried to take the sides off the entire bottom fell out! I rushed to transfer the oozing filling into a new pan and scraped the crust on top. Suddenly, I had baked a strawberry cobbler. How very American! And it tastes absolutely phenomenal in all its fabulous messy mushiness. So, just so you know, the option is yours.
Finnish Strawberry Tart (makes one 11-inch tart)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 1/3 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 4 cups fresh, ripe strawberries (the small flavorful varieties are best), cleaned, hulled and sliced
- 2 tablespoons potato starch or corn starch
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter
- preheat the oven to 350F. Grease an 11 inch tart pan, or a shallow cake/pie pan of a similar size.
- In a small bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder.
- In another bowl (or standing mixer) cream together the 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 sugar until well blended. Then beat in the egg.
- Blend in the flour mixture, until well mixed. Press about 2/3s of the dough into the tart pan, covering the bottom and up the sides.
- Stir together the strawberries, 1/2 sugar, and potato/cornstarch. Dump this filling into the tart crust, then dot the top with lumps of the 2 Tbs. of butter.
- Use the remaining tart dough to make a lattice top (roll into strips, and weave in a crosshatch across the top of the tart) – or if you’re a bit lazy like me, make the remaining dough into leaf-like or other shapes and lay them atop the filling. If desired, brush the top dough very lightly with milk and sprinkle with another Tbs. of granulated sugar.
- Bake the tart for 25-30 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Allow to cool for 20 minutes and serve warm, or serve at room temperature. The tart is marvelous by itself, but even better topped with sweetened whipped cream with a dollop of sour cream whipped into it or with ice cream.