Strawberries with Pernod and Black Pepper

I love summer desserts. I can be counted on to devour every pie, crumble and cobbler in sight with near-psychotic enthusiasm. It is hard to go wrong with fresh fruits and berries, a butter based crust or topping, and some sweetener. The only problem with these desserts, however, is that there comes a time in every Montreal summer when it is so hot that it would be suicidal to turn on the oven. As any locals reading this blog will know (or really anyone in the northeast of this godforsaken continent), that time came last week.

Of course, beyond the issue of cooking in this heat, summer fruit is also so fantastic that you often just want it relatively unaltered (or completely unaltered), rather than baked into even the simplest recipe. And so one of our summer dessert standbys, when we do want a little something special that doesn’t involve turning on the oven, is this incredibly simple recipe of strawberries soaked in Pernod (pastis liquor) and black pepper. We have been especially into it in recent weeks, as Quebec strawberries are everywhere, and so delicious, and new ones are finding their way into our fridge on an almost daily basis.

Graeme and I discovered this tradtional French way of preparing fresh strawberries when it was served to us last summer at our favourite French bistro in town, Au Petit Extra. I was very skeptical at first, as I hate the taste of black licorice, and therefore tend to hate the taste of licorice-flavoured liquors, but in this case those three simple ingredients–strawberries, Pernod and black pepper–all combined to create something coherent and special, and just licorice-y enough to make an impression but not enough to alienate me and my palate. Au Petit Extra called them “fraises pépé” (grandfather’s strawberries?), but I am not sure at all if that is a commonly used name for them or just one they came up with; as far as I can tell as an ignorant anglophone, it comes from the expression, “chercher les fraises [pépé]” which, for some reason that I do not at all understand, means to become senile. I would welcome any francophones reading this here entry to comment and clear up some of this linguistic confusion, because google and my beloved really let me down on this one.

Anyway, ever since that fateful dinner, Graeme and I have been trying to figure out how to recreate this incredibly simple strawberry dish. It has been a truly Goldilocks-style process; the first time I made this, the Pernod was far too subtle, and then when Graeme tried his hand at it, it was so strong that I found it inedible. After going back and forth a little bit, I finally found a balance that works for our taste buds, although I’m sure other folks would want to alter it one way or another for theirs. I present to you the recipe we came up with below.

At its best, the Pernod and black pepper should not overpower the strawberries, but rather they should give them this extra punch that makes them taste… even more like strawberries. Like super-strawberries. To me, that’s what summer desserts are all about; when fruit is so fresh and so tasty on its own, it is a shame to do much to it unless you are emphasizing what is already there. You certainly don’t want to take anything away from the beauty of a fresh, ripe strawberry.

Strawberries with Pernod and Black Pepper
Serves 2-3. Or maybe more, if you served them with good vanilla ice cream, which is an EXCELLENT idea.

2 cups fresh strawberries, stemmed and halved
3 tbsp Pernod or pastis liquor
A few generous turns of your black pepper mill

Put all the strawberries into a bowl, and pour in the Pernod, stirring to make sure they are properly covered. Grind your pepper into the bowl, stir, and let sit for at least 30 minutes, ideally an hour or two. (I find that it’s perfect to prepare this just as you’re getting ready to sit down for dinner, and then it is good to go by the time you are ready for dessert.) Serve on its own, or with ice cream.