If you’re like me, you enjoy the taste of seasonal local strawberries in their purest form—picked warm and fresh from the field and eaten straight out of the container purchased from a local farmer at the East Nashville Farmers Market. Their natural sweetness and supple texture set them worlds apart from the flavorless, bred-to-ship California varieties found in commercial grocery stores, making this ruby red fruit a regional delicacy. Yet, sometimes the qualities of our local strawberries can be degraded by the mounds of sugar and gelatin found in many Southern dessert recipes. Therefore, when I bring home a quart of these rare gems, I look for simple recipes with ingredients that compliment my berries, not degrade or overpower them, so their natural flavors shine through.
One fruit dessert that is light enough for my taste is a flaugnarde (FLOWN-niard), also referred to as a clafoutis (klah-foo-TEE). These berry-studded custards are local desserts from the rural Limousin region of France, the difference being which fruit is used in each: a clafoutis is traditionally baked with only black cherries, whereas a flaugnarde can be prepared with a variety of different fruits. How appropriate, I thought, to take such a classic French provincial dessert that showcases seasonal berries and make it sparkle with the flavors of Tennessee. With that in mind, I created a comforting yet light flaugnarde recipe containing 3 main ingredients produced by our local farmers and available at the East Nashville Farmers Market: strawberries, wildflower honey, and fresh farm eggs. I also opted to bake this dessert in my grandmother’s cast-iron skillet, but a buttered gratin or casserole dish, or even a cake or pie pan will work just as well.
To begin, I slathered my skillet with a small knob of butter and lightly dusted it with flour to prevent any sticking. I selected a quart of ripe strawberries from one of the local farmers at the East Nashville market, trimmed off the calyx and any soft spots, and rinsed them with a shower of cool water. Delvin Farms, Kelley’s Berry Farm, Green Door Gourmet, and Oak Grove Farm all have beautifully fragrant, plump, ripe berries for sale at the East Nashville market. Let your strawberries drain in a colander or on a dish towel while you mix the rest of your ingredients.
Next, I poured 1 1/2 cup of whole milk (any type of milk will work fine, or try a milk/cream combo for a richer texture) into a mixing bowl and added 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or 1 scraped vanilla bean would be lovely if you have it on hand).
To the milk, I added 3 heaping tablespoons of Delvin Farms wildflower honey to give my flaugnarde just a hint of regional sweetness and depth of flavor. This honey is made by bees that pollinate crops on the Delvins’ certified organic farm, and is harvested and extracted on the farm by the Delvins themselves. It has a bright taste with notes of floral and citrus that compliment the flavors of strawberry and vanilla nicely.
Next, I cracked 3 beautifully colored farm eggs raised on the Botanical Harmony farm into my bowl. These eggs are laid by different breeds of local, free-range chickens. They have beautiful deep orange yolks that, when whisked into the milk and honey, added a lovely apricot glow to my batter. After the eggs are fully incorporated, I whisked in half a cup of all-purpose flour to give my custard a little substance and lift.
Once my batter was fully combined, I diced my strawberries and added them to the skillet. Then, I poured the mixture on top and put the cast-iron into a preheated 350 degree oven for about 40-45 minutes. (Using my 12-inch cast-iron skillet created a thinner custard. For a thicker flaugnarde, bake in a 9-inch pan or pie plate.)
After 45 minutes, I removed a bubbling, fragrant, eggy fruit custard from my oven. The edges were perfectly golden brown and pulling away from the sides of my skillet, and the baked strawberry aroma filled the rooms of my home. This dessert can be served sliced after it cools down to room temperature, or scooped bubbling and hot fresh out of the oven. It also makes barely-sweet, delicious breakfast. In France, it is traditionally sprinkled with a dusting of powdered sugar. It can also be topped with a curl of vanilla ice cream. But since we’re in Tennessee, I drizzled my slice with an extra ribbon of Delvin Farms wildflower honey and enjoyed it on my back porch to the sounds of my favorite bluegrass band. Bon appétit, y’all.
2 cups diced local Tennessee strawberries
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teasoons pure vanilla extract or seeds of 1 vanilla bean
3 tablespoons wildflower honey
3 farm eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
butter for coating skillet
powdered sugar for dusting (optional)