Start with perfectly ripe strawberries. Two or three baskets will probably make four to six servings for this recipe. This variety I used (pictured above) is "Albion," smaller than the average chain-grocery-store berry, but sweeter. Another variety I like and can find at farmers' markets this time of year is "Chandler." Take off their green tops and set them aside.
Next, make the meringue shells. This is such an easy recipe, but it flummoxes so many people! The tricks to a perfect meringue, if you can call them tricks, are twofold: 1)Make sure your bowl and beater or whisk attachment are perfectly clean. The slightest little bit of fat or grease clinging to either will prevent the egg whites from whipping up nicely. And 2)Don't try to do this recipe on a rainy, humid day. Meringues are very deliquescent (like that word? my mom taught it to me!), and they soak up humidity and turn gummy in wet weather.
Find yourself an easy-looking meringue shell recipe. I searched online and found this one, which I adapted from the August 2005 issue of "Sunset" magazine. It's super-easy to do, especially if you use the packaged egg whites in cartons (found in the dairy case):
4 large egg whites (1/2 C.) or 1/2 C. refrigerated pasteurized egg whites
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. high-quality vanilla extract
1 C. plus about 2 Tbsp. sugar
4 C. blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries (or some of each)
whipped cream, heavy cream, or vanilla yogurt (if desired)
1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a sheet of parchment paper or brown kraft paper on a cookie sheet; set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar and vanilla extract until foamy. Add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, increasing the speed of the mixer, until the sugar is entirely incorporated and the mixture stands in stiff, glossy peaks, like these:3. Plop the meringue mixture into a pastry bag with no tip (even simpler: use a gallon-sized, zip-type plastic bag with a small snip off the lower corner). Pipe four large (5" diameter) or six medium (4" diameter) circles directly onto the parchment or brown paper, starting with a tiny, tight spiral and working outward. Atop the outer edge of each circle, pipe a low "wall" of meringue, and add a second layer of wall if you want. If you have any leftover meringue in the bag, pipe some freeform squiggles on the paper, too.
Here are my shells and squiggles, prior to baking. Don't worry if your shells slump a bit; part of their charm is in their rough-hewn, hand-made look. We're not trying for Cordon Bleu perfection here, people!
4. Cook the meringues for 1-1/2 hours in the oven, then turn off the heat and LEAVE them in the oven for another hour or two. Or go to the movies, like we did!Here is a cooked shell. It will be crispy on the outside; tender and slightly chewy inside.
5. Peel the meringue shells off the paper (they should come up very easily), and pour the hulled berries in the shells. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with whipped cream, heavy cream, or yogurt, if desired.
What did we do with the extra squiggles I made? We ate them, of course!
And don't forget; things just taste yummier when you use your best silverware!