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A slice of life in Claremont

It is called food porn. I thought it was one of those crazy things that I sometimes hear about—at least as crazy as it sounded—but then I kept seeing friends and other people doing it. They probably do it in their kitchens and dining rooms, but I see them doing it usually in restaurants and sometimes in dining halls. It isn’t something they are ashamed of. In fact, they’re proud of doing it.

They get their food, say, at a restaurant and then they get out their phone (iPhone, Smartphone, whatever) and snap a picture of the food. Usually, it’s because it looks so good, either because of the presentation or because it’s something they love or both.

Taking the picture is only the first step, though. They then share the picture, pretty soon, if not, immediately, for many or all to see. Pretty soon, if not, immediately, they post the photo online (on Facebook, Instagram, whatever).

Like I said, food porn is something to show off and take pride in, not to keep secret and be ashamed of. Or, to put it another way: It is said that we’re getting to the point, if we’re not there already, where we live online. Why not eat online?

Maybe I should have taken a picture of the apple pie I bought in Julian in the fall and posted it for all to see. I have always heard about the apple pies in Julian and, when I went to a weekend retreat just outside of town in November, I decided to stop by a bakery and buy a pie before heading home. Actually, it was an apple crumb pie, and I have never had anything like it—with its abundance of perfectly-spiced, perfectly-cooked fresh apples and its caramelized crisp-like crust. Having it warm with ice cream was almost too good, too extravagant. “Gilding the lily,” as my grandmother used to say.

I have to say that I can’t wait to go to the retreat again this fall and pick up another one of those pies on the way home. It was definitely a highlight, perhaps even worth posting online.

There was probably plenty of food porn going on at the Claremont Pie Festival last Saturday, speaking of pies and snapping photos. Even more than usual in the Village, with its plethora of eateries, opportunities to take and upload pictures of mouth-watering crusted delights were served up in generous portions at this second annual event.

I was away last year when it was held in July. Hopefully, the crowd was bigger this time, with fewer people out of town, even though it may have felt a bit too much like summer for some.

Actually, this was an ideal time for this festival. Although it was a warm winter—what winter?—the last two or three weeks have been particularly pleasant, with getting out all the more inviting. The recent big storm definitely made a difference, refreshing us at last and reminding us that, even without winter, spring is on the way.

Not only was the Claremont Pie Festival a nice way to follow the spring urge to get out of the house and get together with others in the community, it has occurred to me that it is an ideal Claremont happening, especially with all the pictures being taken and shared with phones. It is Claremont at its not-so-small-town, small-town best.

From the time when I saw the first advertisements for this year’s pie festival, I thought of the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma. The day was indeed not unlike the pie social in the musical, where pies are auctioned off along with the women who made them—a traditional fun break taken together, a gathering in celebration of community.

No question it was old-fashioned, even quaint, with the pie eating contests (“I’ve only seen that in movies,” a friend commented) emceed by the city manager, a string band playing, a parade and contests for aprons. And, of course, the awards for best pies made. This was all straight out of a homesteading town on the prairie.

But it was also all very modern, all very 2014, with people doing food porn. All these activities–the eating, the music, the parading, the demonstrations—were being photographed, videotaped and probably posted online by dozens and dozens of phones. There was also the woman in the pie eating contest with all her brilliant tattoos, doing a fierce, impressive job on her two-and-a-half-pound chocolate cream pie (a job much harder than it sounds), cheered on for “grrrl power.”

Small-town but not-so-small-town.

This was also a good time for the pie festival, not just with last Friday being International Pi Day (3/14) but also because spring and summer are on their way with all their fantastic berries and stone fruits. Sure, I’m looking forward to fall when I can get that apple crumb pie, but I’ll only have to wait a few weeks or so, if that, to eat some fantastic fresh fruit pies.

In fact, it is just about time for me to enjoy my fresh strawberry pie. I enjoy two or three of these pies every spring when fresh strawberries are available. It was originally a recipe for peach pie, but I think it’s even better with strawberries with their touch of acidity and it’s terrific with vanilla ice cream. It’s an icebox pie, but the key to it is the crust—a sweet shortbread crust with, of course, real butter. It won’t work with a standard store-bought crust.

In the spirit of the Claremont Pie Festival, where recipes were handed out in Village shops in some clever marketing, here’s the recipe:

Fresh Strawberry Pie

2–3 boxes of strawberries

1 cup flour

1 stick butter

2/3 cup + ½ cup + ½ cup sugar

cornstarch

1. Make crust with flour, butter and 2/3 sugar, fit it in pan and chill it before baking. (Adjust sugar amount to make crust easier to cut.)

2. Prick crust with a fork and bake at 300 degrees for 10-20 minutes, until it smells ready and is light brown, and set aside to cool.

3. Cut up 2/3 of the strawberries, mix with ½ cup sugar and put in cooled crust.

4. Cut up the rest of the strawberries and blend with ½ cup sugar until liquid. Simmer this mixture until translucent, adding cornstarch to thicken if desired (I don’t), and drizzle over berries.

5. Refrigerate pie before eating. Pictures can be taken anytime.

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