a nursing home visit, and a strawberry balsamic pie

strawberry balsamic pie | the merry gourmet

My father doesn’t remember me visiting him at the nursing home. This has been happening more and more lately. I think it upsets my mother more than it does me. I’m not hurt by his forgetfulness of my visits. It actually takes some of the pressure off. If I have to skip seeing him because work has gotten busy and my clinic runs late, or if I miss a visit because I’m traveling (like I will be this weekend), I’m comforted knowing that he won’t know the difference.

Maybe I should be sad that he doesn’t remember that I’ve been there by his side, holding his hand or helping with his dinner. Honestly, I feel rather numb about the whole thing now. March will be one year since he entered the nursing home. I’ve become resigned to this situation, to his dementia and to our complete lack of control.

I get the question often: “How is your dad?”

No matter how many times I’m asked, I always hesitate, not quite sure how to respond. There really isn’t a happy answer, just an honest one. He’s okay. He’s stable. We’re not having any crises right now. He seems comfortable. I say these things out loud, while inside, I’m thinking: He will die in there. That’s how this will end. We are all just waiting. And grieving.

I tried to make small talk when I visited with Dad late this afternoon. “I’m going on a trip tomorrow, Dad,” I said.

“Where are you going?” he asked, looking more alert than he had when I first arrived at his bedside.

“San Diego. For a work conference. I’ll be gone a few days.” I was speaking so loud that it felt as if I were yelling. He has very little hearing left, and only in his right ear.

“I’ve been there. I’ve been to San Diego. It was a long time ago.”

strawberry balsamic pie | the merry gourmet

We didn’t talk much more than that. He was restless and couldn’t get comfortable. He shifted in his bed, alternately sitting up and lying back again, not able to find the right position. He closed his eyes and seemed to doze, but just as he seemed to be settled, he yelled out.

“Kenneth!” he hollered. “Boyce!” And, after a pause, “Help me.”

I held his arm and reminded him that his brothers were not there, that they’re in Tennessee and Kentucky.

“What do you need help with, Dad?” I asked.

He looked at me, with a puzzled expression on his face, as if he’d forgotten I was there. His beard – the one he’s carefully trimmed and shaped for 35 years – was freshly shaved off by a nursing home aide. His stained, grey t-shirt hung loosely on his frame. He’s lost over fifty pounds in the last six months. His formerly protuberant belly has withered away, his legs are scrawny, and his arms are covered with a map of bruises in shades of purple. His glasses were not on his face; they went missing before Christmas. His hearing aid is also gone, vanished along with much of his clothing and those glasses he’s worn for decades.

He didn’t have an answer for me. And I certainly had no answers for him.

After a while, I said my goodbyes. I told him I loved him. I reminded him that I would see him again when I returned from my trip.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“San Diego, Dad.”

“I’ve been there, to San Diego,” he said.

I smiled.

*  *  *

Once again, I’ve written a post that has nothing to do with this recipe. I really wanted to share this pie with you, though, and this was my chance. This Strawberry Balsamic Pie comes from the The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. I bought this gorgeous book as a present for myself a few weekends ago, and I’ve fallen deep in love with it. I made this pie last weekend, and thoughts of pie making have flitted through my brain almost daily since then. If I weren’t headed to San Diego tomorrow and through the weekend, I’d be baking up another one.

strawberry balsamic pie | the merry gourmet

Yield: Serves 8-10

Strawberry Balsamic Pie

This recipe comes from the The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. I've tweaked it only slightly.


One recipe all-butter pie crust dough for 9-inch double crust pie

1/4 cup (50 grams) plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 pounds fresh strawberries, rinsed, stems removed, and quartered
1 small apple
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup (150 grams) packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons ground arrowroot
2 or 3 grinds fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt)
Raw sugar, for finishing


Have ready and refrigerated one pastry-lined 9-inch pie plate and a pastry round or lattice to top the pie.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons granulated sugar on the strawberries, stir, and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Peel the apple and shred using the large holes on a box grater. Drain the strawberries of excess liquid and combine with the shredded apple. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir gently to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, arrowroot, black pepper, and salt. Fold the sugar mixture into the strawberries, and pour the filling into the refrigerator pie shell. Arrange the lattice crust on top and crimp the edges. Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, position the oven racks at the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Brush the top pie crust with the egg wash, taking care not to smear the filling onto the crust as it will burn. Sprinkle with raw sugar.

Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the bottom oven rack. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees, move the pie to the center oven rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, 30 to 40 minutes longer.

Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Note: This pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or refrigerated for 2 days.

Very slightly adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book.

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21 Responses to “a nursing home visit, and a strawberry balsamic pie”

  1. 1
    Beth (OMG! Yummy) — February 5, 2014 @ 7:23 pm

    You had me at strawberry balsamic. I will make this but not until strawberries go back down to less than $7 per basket 🙂

    Your nursing home story brings back many memories of my MIL’s scenario. I truly empathize and can vividly remember my own version of the same situation. Stay strong and keep visiting as often as you can.

    Have a great time in San Diego!

  2. 2
    Elizabeth — February 5, 2014 @ 7:33 pm

    The pie looks delish!! Can’t wait to try it. My heart goes out to your and your family. The situation with your father is not easy and you have every right to feel the full range of emotions, sometimes repeatedly in one day! It is good for you to visit and even though you think it does not mean something, it does. Deep down inside, it does. It is concerning when you mention all of the items that have gone missing. Maybe a chat with management could rectify that situation. Glasses, hearing aids and clothes are a big deal! I cannot imagine what your Mom is going through. Probably a lot of ‘Thank God he is still here with us’ and ‘Don’t let him suffer needlessly’ which are all normal. Sometimes there is a connection of guilt associated with the latter – all normal. All one wants is for things to go back to when there were good memories. My heartfelt prayers for you and your family.

  3. 3
    Kathryn — February 6, 2014 @ 6:10 am

    Oh, this is so familiar. Those half conversations that go round in circles and the knowledge that in 10 minutes, your visit will be forgotten. It’s so, so hard. Much love to you and your family xo

  4. 4
    Georgie — February 6, 2014 @ 11:00 am

    I love this pie. It’s beautiful. Very much in like the way you walked me down to the memory of my father, through your father. I was numb for a long time during and after my fathers illness. Though many years later, I remember all the good sweet love he gave us. Those beautiful memories stay with and make me smile now. I know it will be the same for you too. Now, lets see if I can macerated these almost ripe strawberries into sweetness. Huge hugs to you!

  5. 5
    Carlinne @Cook with 2 Chicks — February 6, 2014 @ 11:25 am

    This pie looks amazing! This is coming from a “give me a chocolate cookie or brownie” girl. Your posts about your visits to the nursing home are always so touching. I hope that baking and cooking provide some comfort to you throughout this unwanted journey. Maybe there actually IS a connection to your story and your recipe.
    Safe travels.

    • 5.1
      Merry-Jennifer — February 6, 2014 @ 9:03 pm

      Baking definitely provides comfort. So does the writing about it. Thank you so much for commenting, Carlinne.

  6. 6
    Lizthechef — February 6, 2014 @ 11:41 am

    Having been in your situation with parents and in-laws, I would urge you, as a physician, to take a stand with the staff about their neglectful treatment of your beloved father. He needs his vision and hearing supports asap – good luck!

    • 6.1
      Merry-Jennifer — February 6, 2014 @ 9:02 pm

      Oh, Liz, we’ve been all over that nursing home administration and nursing staff. I’ve even had to threaten to file formal complaints with the state. It gets better for at time, then the care lapses. It’s a constant struggle.

  7. 7
    Tina — February 6, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

    The pie looks amazing. It is really sad that your dad is still here but he’s not. We all have a terminal illness some just don’t know what it is. Hugs.

    • 7.1
      Merry-Jennifer — February 6, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

      You’re so right about that, Tina. And thanks for those hugs.

  8. 8
    jacquie — February 6, 2014 @ 1:44 pm

    I’m sorry for you and your dad. Thank you for being willing and courageous enough to share your story. you are grieving and especially then things don’t need to connect. though perhaps connection is as simple as the pie and the making, eating and sharing of it helps ground you and your loved ones in a very challenging situation.

  9. 9
    Paula — February 6, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

    Another poignantly beautiful post Merry Jennifer. This pie looks amazing, I love how you did the top crust in strips and adding balsemic vinegar to the strawberry filling must have elevated the taste to over the top wonderful.

    • 9.1
      Merry-Jennifer — February 6, 2014 @ 8:59 pm

      Thank you, Paula. I wish I could take credit for the balsamic genius. The recipe is from the Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book – those women are talented.

  10. 10
    Di — February 10, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

    I grieve for you, for your family, for your broken hearts. I have no words beyond this to express my sadness for you all. I have been there.

  11. 11
    Vanessa — February 13, 2014 @ 10:10 pm

    Thank you for the recipe. The pie tasted delicious 🙂 My only problem (which very well could just be my lack of pie making skills) was that the juice was still runny, it didn’t thicken up. Any suggestions? Thanks, vanessa

    • 11.1
      Merry-Jennifer — February 14, 2014 @ 8:54 am

      Did you use the ground arrowroot? That serves as a thickener. Also, if the pie is warm when you slice it, it will be runnier. If you refrigerate the pie, then slice it and let the slice come to room temperature, the pie slice will keep its shape better.

  12. 12
    Vanessa — February 14, 2014 @ 2:18 pm

    Thanks for the reply. I used ground arrowroot and refrigerated it for a day, maybe I’ll add more arrowroot next time. But, my husband still loved it, so thank you! 😉

  13. 13
    Nutmeg Nanny — February 15, 2014 @ 4:31 pm

    My thoughts are with you and your family in this difficult time, unfortunately I know too well that there aren’t enough words anyone could say to ease this sort of pain.
    Your pie is gorgeous, it looks perfectly done.

  14. 14
    lucy — February 19, 2014 @ 12:25 pm

    A beautiful pie and a beautiful and heartfelt post. I am so sorry for what you are going through with your father. Can only imagine how hard it must be for everyone, especially your mother. I have no advice and no words of wisdom but will send up a prayer for you and your family.

  15. 15
    Jennifer — June 10, 2014 @ 4:50 pm


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