Like their adolescent counterparts, the ‘tween months of March through May are an awkward way-station on to bigger and better things. Down on the farm, they are a lot of work, with the pay-off out ahead on a still-soggy horizon. Here in the kitchen, they are their own odd combination of waiting and make-ready, punctuated by the occasional glimpse of things-yet-to-come. We wait, at this point in near desperation, for that first decent greenhouse tomato and tiny head of soft Boston lettuce. We make-ready, if we have been clever or greedy or both, by drawing down inventory from our freezers, and using up odds and ends form our pantry, making room for the new. We drive to the source for a quart of this year’s maple syrup—in
The asparagus is, of course, iconic, but it is the make-ready, and make-do, part of this time of the year that have a kind of perverse charm. What’s in the freezer that you have been hoarding for fear of being without in the dark of winter? What can you do with what’s on hand? How combine the old with the new?
For me, the answer to the first question is always (as it is as I rummage around now) berries (red and yellow raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries), corn stock, corn cut off the cob, whole tomatoes, sour cherries in light syrup, and strawberry preserves. These items I never completely finish off until May, when I know more is on the way. Being without a taste of summer—and it is amazing how perfectly preserved that taste of summer can be—would be like running out of water. So I hoard. This year I also find about two cups of shelled lima beans.
How to freeze for a taste of summer is a subject for when the time comes; right now, it’s what to do with the remains of the last year’s day, today. The goal is to marry last summer to this spring. Two things I generally make are a risotto with the corn stock and the new asparagus or snap peas, seasoned with a little lemon zest and mint, and sour-milk pancakes with the virgin syrup. Since you probably don’t have corn stock, I’ll save the risotto recipe for later. But you can make the pancakes with fresh or store-bought frozen berries if you don’t have your own in the freezer.
I like my pancakes thin and tender, never cakey, and my berry flavors distinct (raspberries are intense in a pancake, and can overwhelm others); I don’t mix berries, although two different kinds on a plate are fine, and satisfying. The ones in the photo are raspberry and cranberry. Here’s how I make them:
So the first lesson, obviously, is: don’t throw out that sour milk! In fact, be intentional in your refrigerator neglect—let some go sour, to have it on hand for all kinds of baking.
This batter should be made in the evening and stored overnight; in my opinion, it improves, developing its sour tang and crepe-y texture, over the next several days, so you can make a batch and cook as many as you, and you alone, want to eat. Stir before using each time, adding a bit more milk to thin as needed. And don’t add your berries until cooking, as described below. Serves 4-6.
3 c. unbleached flour, such as King Arthur
2 c. whole fresh milk
4 tea baking powder
¼ c melted unsalted butter
1 tea salt
1 c. or more sour milk
2 large brown RI eggs
Any combination of blueberries, raspberries, or cranberries, fresh or frozen
Sift together flour, b.p., and salt. Beat the eggs; beat in the melted butter and fresh milk, and add to the dry ingredients, stirring just until combined. It will be thick. Add sour milk, mixing, until it is the consistency of heavy cream. Refrigerate overnight or two.
If you don’t plan to use all the batter at once, ladle some into a 2-cup glass measure, and stir. Add as many blueberries or raspberries as you like (less is more, 5 or so/pancake). Heat a griddle medium-hot; if it is well-seasoned, like my prized old stovetop rectangular griddle, no need for added fat, otherwise lightly grease. Quickly pour out batter into 5” rounds, perfect pancake size, which is about 1/3 cup according to your glass measure, depending on your batter thickness. When bubbles have formed on top, turn and cook ‘til lightly golden; these pancakes will be paler than most. If your first batch seems a little thick, thin with additional sour milk. If you are sharing, you can keep your pancakes warm in a 200 F oven while you make more.
Serve with butter and pure