WHIDBEY RECIPES: Fresh berries are worth the wait

“Everything is late this year.”

“Everything is late this year.”

How many times have you heard that phrase during the past six or eight weeks?

It all started with a very late, in fact almost non-existent spring, followed by late but hopeful signs of summer. It’s amazing how a few sunny, warm days can wipe out memories of the cool damp ones and convince us we’re in for sunny skies, shorts and sandals, but I fear that true summer, with hot days and warm nights, will also be late this year.

Everything in our meager garden is late; it’ll be August in just a couple of weeks, and normally we’d be picking the first tomatoes, along with some kohlrabi and green beans. Not this summer, even though our tomato plants took the promise of summer to heart and went crazy, getting taller and leggier with every passing day. They are asking to be pinched back, not easy to do when they’re so late getting around to the business of producing tomatoes.

The entire month of June, we read and heard about how late the strawberries were.

Local berries, I mean, not the pithy, short-on-flavor California berries, but finally and at last our inimitable local berries put in their annual appearance. I’ve already made strawberry ice cream, so rich and laced with fresh strawberry flavor it is almost addictive. And of course, we’re eating them on, with and in everything we can think of while they’re in their brief prime.

As for our other favorite berry, the raspberries, well guess what; “they’re late this year.”

Ever since the deer ate our raspberry canes almost to the ground a few years ago, we’ve depended on a couple of local suppliers to fill in the void, but not yet. As with the strawberries, we’re told they’ll be ready “soon,” but soon is a long time coming, it seems to me. Last Saturday, however, at the farmers market, there were flats and flats of beautiful (and expensive) raspberries, most from over those hills.

Even though I knew what to expect, I decided to climb the hill behind the house and check up on the blackberry bushes I rely on for my blackberry jam every summer.

Good news, they’re loaded with berries; bad news, the berries are big, fat, green and hard as rocks. Looks like the blackberries will be, you guessed it, “late this year.” In fact, from the look of them right now, I don’t expect to be picking blackberries much before September. I hope I’m wrong.

Hoping to pluck a few zucchini while they’re still small, sweet and tender?

Sorry, they’ll be a bit late this year. What’s that? You’re ready to start enjoying local sweet corn? Gosh, looks like the corn’s a little behind this year; shouldn’t be too much longer, though. Cherries? Just when I was thinking there’d be no cherries for at least another week or two, there were both Bing and Rainiers at the market last Saturday, also from over the mountains, but at least they’re finally here.

Patience has never been one of my strong points, but when it comes to real summer weather and all the goodies it brings with it, I don’t have much choice. Well-known poet Longfellow wrote, “All things come round to him who will but wait.” Well, maybe. Not-so-well-known Lady Currie put it better, I think, when she wrote “Ah, ‘All things come to those who wait,’ they come, but often come too late.”

RECIPES

When the evenings are warm and berries are ripe (finally), it’s time for sorbet. It’s not quite as good as the real thing, homemade ice cream, but if you’re lactose intolerant and/or counting calories, sorbet is the next best thing, and easy.

First, make up a batch of basic simple syrup by combining 4½ cups sugar with 4 cups water in a saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil and cook 1 min. or until all the sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly. Use in the following recipes; store any extra in the refrigerator.

STRAWBERRY WINE SORBET

4 cups coarsely chopped fresh, ripe strawberries

1 cup dry white wine (Chablis, dry sherry, etc.)

¾ cup basic simple syrup (see instructions above)

½ cup honey

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 4 min. Remove from heat and let cool.

Pour cooled mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish, cover and freeze for at least 8 hrs., or until firm.

Remove mixture from freezer, break into chunks. With knife blade in food processor bowl, add frozen chunks and process until smooth. Serve immediately in chilled glasses, or spoon mixture into a container, cover and freeze for up to 1 month.

Makes 5 cups.

RED RASPBERRY SORBET

3 cups fresh raspberries

1½ cups basic simple syrup

With knife blade in food processor bowl, add raspberries and simple syrup. Process until smooth. Pour mixture into an

8-inch square baking dish, cover and freeze at least 8 hrs. or until firm.

Remove mixture from freezer, break into chunks. With knife blade in food processor bowl, add frozen chunks and process until smooth. Serve immediately, garnished with a sprig of mint and/or a few fresh berries, or spoon mixture into a container, cover and freeze for up to 1 month.

Makes 4 cups.

Now let’s throw caution to the winds and whip up one of my favorite of all fresh berry desserts, crème brûlée with raspberries.

CRÈME BRÛLÉE WITH FRESH RASPBERRIES & RASPBERRY SAUCE

2 cups half and half

2 cups heavy cream

8 egg yolks

½ cup superfine sugar

1 t. vanilla

Pinch of cinnamon and pinch of salt

1/3 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

1½ cups fresh raspberries

Fresh mint sprigs (optional, if available)

Make Fresh Raspberry Sauce (recipe follows).

Scald half and half and cream in a heavy saucepan over med.-high heat; remove from heat.

Beat egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl until light in color and thick, about 3 min. Stir in vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Temper the egg mixture by adding a little bit of the hot cream mixture, stirring constantly. Then slowly whisk in remaining hot cream mixture. Pour the custard into a 1½ quart baking or souffle dish; cover tightly with foil and puncture the foil in several places with a knife. Place dish in a larger, deep-sided baking pan, place pan on center rack of a preheated

325-degree oven. Carefully pour boiling water into the baking pan to come halfway up sides of the baking dish. Bake until custard is set and knife inserted in two or three spots in the custard comes out clean, about 1 hr. 20 min. or a bit more (remove foil for knife test, replace if it’s necessary to continue baking).

Remove dish carefully from baking pan to a wire rack and let cool, uncovered, to room temp., then cover and refrigerate 8 hrs. or overnight.

Now for the tricky part, creating that wonderful, crispy sugar crust on the top of the custard. John does this for me with his handy little Mapp torch, which makes easy work of the task. You can also buy crème brûlée kits with burners in some specialty shops. If you have neither, you’ll have to do it the hard way. About

2½ hrs. before serving this dessert, heat the oven broiler. Put the baking dish back into the deep-sided baking pan (without water this time). Sieve brown sugar over the top of the custard. Surround the custard dish with ice cubes, coming ¾ of the way up the dish. Broil 8 inches from the broiler rod until the sugar begins to bubble and melt, 8-10 min. Remove from broiler, allow to cool for 5 min., then put back under the broiler and broil until the sugar is very brown (but not black), 5-8 min. longer probably. Remove dish from pan and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

At serving time, spoon enough raspberry sauce on each chilled dessert plate to cover the bottom, then spoon crème brûlée over the sauce in the center of the plate, making sure to keep sugar coating on the top of each one. Garnish with fresh raspberries and mint sprig, if available.

Fresh Raspberry Sauce: Puree 1½ cups fresh raspberries in a food processor. Transfer to a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl and press the puree through the sieve to remove seeds. Stir in 1 T. (or to taste) fresh lemon juice and 1 to

3 T. superfine sugar (to taste), and 1 T. framboise (raspberry liqueur), which is optional. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Note: If you’re fortunate enough to have a set of those special crème brûlée dishes, this recipe works just fine with those, as well. Simply divide custard and sugar, etc. evenly among the dishes and proceed accordingly.

Margaret Walton can be reached at falwalcal@msn.com.

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