We're right at the tail end of jarareng season, also known as green sour plums or gojeh sabz. In the next couple weeks, they will start ripening and will lose their crunch, turning into an entirely different fruit. When we see these in the market in May, we joke about the first time my mom tried them.
She traveled from Baghdad to her mom's family's farm in north-eastern Syria when she was three years old, and her uncle, Badel, gave her a freshly-picked jarareng from their orchard. She absolutely loved it and asked if she could have some more, but Badel didn't want her stomach to get upset so he said no. But my mom insisted that if he didn't give her another, she would tell her mom not to be his sister anymore.
Perhaps this can be chalked up to toddlers being toddlers, but anyone who has ever tried jarareng can empathize with this intense obsession. There's something poignant about the scarcity of seasonal produce, beyond the mere fact that we're always left wanting more. Rare and fleeting fruits and vegetables can transport us back to a specific time and place, when more ubiquitous foods cannot.
So when I first I thought to post about jarareng, I wanted to share that experience by encouraging people to seek them out and try eating them plain, with a little salt, along with some other fruit. And while you should definitely do this (now! before it's too late! Seriously, stop reading, go to the store, buy some, and then come back and finish reading this), I hope you'll allow me to also make a much less traditional suggestion. If you've never tried baking with jarareng, if you (somehow!) have a surplus that's sitting around and slowly losing their tart crunchiness, it's time to bake a pie before it's too late.
Jarareng strawberry pie is a lot like strawberry rhubarb pie, and, as you might expect, a bit different. It's got the same sour and sweet flavor profile, but it's got a personality all its own, since plums are an entirely different fruit. Essentially, this is an equally tart, but even fruitier version of strawberry rhubarb pie. The flavor of the jarareng definitely comes through, but the fruits soften and meld with the strawberries to create something else altogether. It's not the jarareng you've come to know and love, but it's both familiar and new.
The one difficult thing about baking with jarareng, other than finding somewhere to buy it (see recipe note), is figuring out a way to pry the flesh from the pits. Unlike ripe plums, which you can slice, twist, and pit with a spoon, these unripe plums cling extremely tightly to their pits. This isn't a problem when you're just snacking on them, but it makes it a little tricky to bake with them. But follow the advice below to safely pit and slice them.
You simply slice all the way round, like an avocado, then slice all the way around perpendicularly. Then you place the knife in one of the long slashes, and carefully twist the knife away from the hand you're using to steady the plum, in order to slice through the first quarter. And then it's pretty easy from there.
Just make sure that you use a sharp paring knife and always cut away from yourself. Never ever put pressure on the plum toward the hand you're using to stabilize it. And maybe don't try this recipe right away if you're very new to cooking. This knife skill is somewhat intermediate, for someone who's been practicing safe knife techniques for a long time and never ever accidentally injures themselves. This pie is good, but not worth blood loss. * (Instead, try another impressive dessert recipe for now).
The other tricky thing about this recipe is making the lattice top. It's a lot easier than it looks, and I've provided written directions in the recipe, but I suspect that it would be easiest to use these photos as a guide:
For some reason, I seem to have all the wrong intuitions when it comes to pastry, so I've always found baking pie to be really difficult, until I learned a few simple tricks. I included everything you need to know in the recipe, but here are a few general principles:
1) Keep the pie dough chilled at (almost) all times. Chill every single ingredient. Chill them after you've mixed them together with your hot hands. Chill the dough before and after you've rolled it out. Chill the pie for a few minutes before you pop it in the oven. All the (perhaps tedious) chilling in the recipe is there to make sure the crust has the perfect flaky and crisp, yet tender texture. The one exception is that you don't want the strips of dough to be too, too rigid when you're doing the lattice, or it'll crack when you bend it. But you also don't want it to be warm, or it'll fall apart and start to melt. I have to learn everything the hard way, so I didn't realize how important chilling was until about my 20th pie, even though I had been told this direction by countless recipes and concerned friends. Don't be like me.
2) Don't overwork the dough, which means no food processor. I use cooking machinery just about any chance I get (I almost never knead bread by hand, I never shred anything with a box grater, and I only use my mortar and pestle when I want to take extra fancy photos of spice blending). But there are some times when slower really is better, and this is one of those times. Working the butter into the flour with your hands will leave a few irregular chunks, something I've never managed in the food processor, and this makes the pie flaky and tender. You can totally use a food processor if you really want to—for that matter, you can use store-bought crust and skip all the hassle—but every extra step you take will lead to even better pie.
3) Do not rush anything. Pie is not something you should make on a busy day when you have errands to run and things to do. It's the kind of thing you should make when you're spending a relaxing day hanging out at home with your partner or family. Leave time for chilling, time for doing things by hand, and, last but not least, time for cooling after the pie comes out of the oven. If you serve your pie warm, soon after it comes out of the oven, it's going to ooze everywhere. The tapioca thickens the macerated syrup, but it only sets once it cools to room temperature.
And, during all that hard work, just remember that this is what you get when you follow the recipe carefully:
Strawberry Sour Plum Pie
Active time: 1 hour
Total time: 3 hours 45 minutes
For the crust
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 sticks chilled unsalted butter (16 tablespoons, or 1 cup)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons chilled sour cream
Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl and place the bowl in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Cut the butter into small pieces (half tablespoons) and then add it to the chilled flour mixture. Work the butter into the flour by rubbing the butter and flour between your fingers. Continue until the largest chunks of butter are no larger than Tic Tacs. Put the bowl in the freezer for about 10 minutes before you continue.
Add 1/2 cup of the sour cream to the flour mixture and combine. If the mixture does not come together into a ball, add a tablespoon more at a time until it does.** Once you can squeeze the dough into a ball that doesn't crumble apart, you've added enough.
Once you're happy with the dough's consistency, divide it in half and shape each half into a disc. Wrap each disc separately in plastic and place them in the refrigerator for an hour.
For the pie
3 cups pitted and quartered sour green plums *** (about 25 plums)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 cups hulled and quartered strawberries (about 16 strawberries)
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon quick cooking minute tapioca
Egg wash: 1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons whole milk
While the dough is chilling, prep and measure the ingredients (see above video for plum prepping instructions) and toss the plums in lemon juice to keep them from browning.
In a mixing bowl, combine the plums, strawberries, sugar, salt, and tapioca, and let it sit for at least 15 minutes, up to 35 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 400° F.
Roll out one of the pie crusts and place it in a 6 cup/10 inch ceramic pie pan. The dough should slightly hang over the edge of the pan. Place this in the refrigerator while you continue to work.
Roll out the second crust and then cut it into long strips, about 1/2 to 3/4 inches wide. If the strips become too soft, place them on a sheet pan in the freezer for a few minutes to firm slightly.
Fill the chilled pie shell with the fruit filling, gently pressing it down with the back of a spoon to get rid of any gaps.
If the dough strips are too rigid to bend without breaking, let them sit at room temperature for a couple minutes. Assemble the lattice top (refer to the images above): First, place half the strips going in one direction all along the pie, with narrow gaps in between them. Then slightly lift back every other strip and place another strip perpendicular to them at the edge of the pie. Drape the lifted strips back over the perpendicular strip. Repeat, alternating which of the parallel strips are lifted, adding the next perpendicular strip each time, until the whole pie is covered.
Once the pie is covered, crimp the edges by pinching them and use a sharp knife to trim any excess dough. Place the pie in the freezer for about 5 to 10 minutes.
Once the lattice top feels firm, brush the pie's surface with the egg wash and then bake for 15 minutes at 400° F.
After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350° F and bake for another 40 to 45 minutes. If the edges of the crust brown too quickly, make a crown of foil.
Place the pie on a cooling rack for at least 2 hours, until it comes to room temperature.
* I'm not a trained professional, so this is just the advice of a home cook, but I've been cooking and practicing safe knife skills for 20 years, and have found success with this slicing method. As always, use common sense and be safe!
** You will almost certainly use the full 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons of sour cream, but you must add it gradually to avoid adding too much.
*** Also known as jarareng, gojeh sabz, ume, méi, or erik, these plums are available in early to mid spring in Middle Eastern and Asian markets and some farmers' markets or supermarkets in Asian and Middle Eastern communities. In the United States, they are easiest to find in the Southwest. Alternatively, you can substitute rhubarb to turn this into a strawberry rhubarb pie.