Saturday, June 26, 2010

Early Raspberries

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I’ve been considering a revision to Mark Twain’s oft-repeated words about New England weather—to paraphrase, if you don’t like it, just wait a minute. A little arrogant, I know, but surely anyone in New England would agree to a change, or at least an alternate version, of “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a year.” Last summer was an unmitigated disaster for everyone from farmers to merchants and restaurants and vacationers. It rained. It was cold. And it never stopped. We went from winter to winter with scarcely a break, with only the calendar to tell us what season it was. This year is its polar (ha) opposite: sunny, warm, already bursting with bounty. Everything is early.

My father, trained as an Air Force pilot in World War II, used to look up at the sky and say things like, “It’s going to clear in an hour” when it was deeply and threateningly gray, or “it’s going to rain at around 3:00” when it was sunny and pleasant. I have my own version of that predictive skill. I can tell, based on spring weather, what summer is going to be like, and based on early summer weather, what fall will be like, and by late summer, what winter will be like. Actually, it’s not skill; it’s the product of close observation, my more than 40 years of living in New England and being someone who is very sensitive to weather (simply put: thrive in summer, hibernate in winter).

Two scenarios present themselves at this moment in time. One, and currently what I consider to be most likely, is that “summer,” weather-wise, will come to a close by mid-August, when it will turn so-called unseasonably cool and rainy, a harbinger for a not-so-nice fall and a hard winter. Always hopeful, however, there is the possibility that our present glorious weather will persist through the summer, a good sign for a nice fall and mild winter—and extended agricultural bounty until the end of October. We’ll know soon enough.

Either way, I kind of win, weather-wise, because I will be departing in August. Meanwhile, the raspberries are in. (The strawberries, which improved over the weeks as the weather became dry and sunny, are in their final picking.) The currants are here, and the gooseberries, and, amazingly, the first sour cherries. The Harts of fruit lady fame say that even the blueberries are ripening way ahead of schedule.

One might well fear that this sudden and rapid abundance will be followed by a long stretch of nothing before the peaches and apples come in. But compared to last year, when all we had was nothing, I’ll take that. And doesn’t that mean the peaches and apples could be early too? This could be my best summer yet.

Just a prediction.

Raspberries with Pourable Tapioca Cream

It is hard to do anything else with the first raspberries than eat them out of hand. But this old-fashioned dessert treats them lightly and maintains their fresh state. Good for breakfast, too. Serves 4.

Tapioca Cream

2 cups milk (2% is OK)
1 generous T instant tapioca
Pinch salt
1 egg, separated
¼ cup, scant, pure cane sugar
¼ tea vanilla

Fresh raspberries or other juicy fresh fruit such as strawberries or peaches

Scald the milk; add the tapioca and salt and cook, stirring, over medium heat for 15 minutes. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with the sugar. Stir a few tablespoons of the milk- tapioca mixture into the egg and sugar, then stir the entire egg-sugar mixture back into the pan of milk-tapioca. Bring to a low boil and cook, stirring, for a minute or so, until it begins to thicken. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl, and add the vanilla. Beat the egg white stiff and fold into the tapioca until completely incorporated but still airy. Chill. Pour the cream over raspberries or other juicy summer fruit, or layer in a coupe or wine glass. Leftovers may be refrigerated; just stir lightly to reincorporate any liquid that has settled.


P.S. Anne just brought me a piece of sour cherry pie for my breakfast. Life is good.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Strawberry Fields—Not Forever II

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Did I mention that strawberries, indeed berries of all kinds, cry out to be matched with corn? Strawberries are very nice as an accompaniment to this little cake, a plain, slightly sweet, eminently sliceable little summer dessert. This has the added benefit of being gluten-free and has no leavening aside from beaten egg whites. Made with stoneground Rhode Island jonnycake cornmeal, it has a satisfying bite and could not be more local. For a finer texture, use regular  yellow cornmeal.


Little Corn Cake

1 cup RI jonnycake cornmeal or yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tea salt
3 eggs, separated
1 stick unsalted butter, melted


Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter a 6” cake pan, preferably aluminum. Line with wax paper and butter or spray with Pam.

Corn cake baked LC

Combine half the cornmeal with the sugar and salt; make a little well in the center and drop in the egg yolks. Slowly add the melted butter, stirring to incorporate until all is absorbed. Add the rest of the cornmeal.  Beat the egg whites until stiff and shiny, and fold into the batter. Pour into the buttered pan.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until brown and a skewer comes out clean. It should be very brown, and will look sort of like a big Thomas’s corn toastie (don’t let it get as dark around the edge as in the photo; I don’t have the right pan with me).  Turn out onto a rack to cool, and cut into thin slices, and serve with strawberries or other fresh fruit, and a little Vin Santo or other light dessert wine.

Corn cake LC






Strawberry Fields—Not Forever I

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Nothing lasts forever. For example, I am back in Little Compton (hurrah!) and you can bet that the time will fly and I will be headed back to dreaded Nashville well before the tomatoes hit their glorious peak in September. And the local Little Compton strawberries are here—it is June, after all—and those will soon be gone.

But fleeting pleasures are to be savored, so I am already deep into rural, coastal life and into the strawberries. I’ve made a small batch of strawberry jam, eaten a bunch of berries out of hand, used them to make the really nice Welcome to LC cocktail below, and garnished lots of stuff—cereal, salad, cake. And I’ve only been here four days. Maybe it’s just as well that strawberry fields are not forever. On to the blueberries!—next month.


Welcome to LC Cocktail

I adore Campari in the summer; it is remarkably refreshing on a hot day (we are in the 90’s this weekend) garnished with soda and lime, and it is a fabulous match with orange. This cocktail combines all. Serves 1.

Strawberry Syrup

1 ½ cups sliced strawberries OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
½ cup pure cane sugar or regular sugar
½ cup water
¼ cup Campari (optional)

Put everything together into a saucepan, bring to a boil, and boil for two or three minutes, chopping the strawberries with the edge of a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and let sit until it is clear and settled, about 5 minutes. Strain, pressing down with the back of the spoon but not so hard that you force the seeds through. Makes about 1 cup.

The Cocktail

1 ½ oz Campari
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
3 T strawberry syrup
3 oz, approx., brut rosé champagne or club soda
1 small sliced strawberry

Stir the first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker or jar with ice until cold. Strain into an 8-oz capacity glass. Top with champagne or club soda and garnish with strawberries and a slice of lime.

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