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Summertime, and what’s on the menu is berry, berry good | WHIDBEY RECIPES
Every year, led into the trap by berry hunger, I am suckered into buying a box or two of those large, pithy, bright red but relatively tasteless California strawberries.
They look so good and give off some strawberry aroma, and that strawberry hunger has been building for months and months, so I convince myself they’ll taste OK if I add a little sugar, perhaps a splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar, and let them macerate awhile before I decide what next to do with them.
It never works. They’re still pithy and so very very unstrawberry.
But then, finally, the real thing appears at the outdoor markets; locally grown, sweet, juicy sensuously succulent, and for an all-too-brief time, it’s all-you-can-eat berry fever. It begins with the strawberries, quickly followed by raspberries and blueberries, and just as these are waning, blackberries move in to complete our summertime berry frenzy.
There are only two of us currently eating on a daily basis in our home.
No matter; we start things off with a flat of fresh strawberries. A flat. Now that’s a lot of berries for two people to deal with, especially when those berries are ripe and ready. Yes, we share, but we’re still talking a lot of berries to put away before they begin to lose their perfection.
Shortcake? Of course. And strawberry cheesecake, strawberries over ice cream, spinach strawberry salad, strawberry sorbet, homemade strawberry ice cream, strawberry smoothies, strawberry cobbler and/or crisp, strawberry pie, and always our beloved strawberry jam. I make a lot of strawberry jam, in fact, because jars of it seem to have a way of going home with children, grandchildren, cousins, friends, neighbors and assorted visitors, many of whom apparently don’t know how or want to make jam.
Even as we’re bemoaning the obvious diminishment of the strawberry supply, those gorgeous red rubies of the berry world, raspberries, make their appearance, and the berry frenzy is refueled.
Yes, please, we’d like a flat of raspberries to go with the final half flat of strawberries we’ll be buying this summer. Same applications as noted above for strawberries, with the addition of raspberry crème brûlée, an addictive dessert I first discovered at Trader Joe’s and then found I could easily reproduce in my own kitchen. And, yes, jam, plenty of raspberry jam.
I often thank the berry gods for gifting me with my fervor for jam making, but it was really one grandmother who was largely responsible. She made jam out of virtually every type of berry she could get us to pick, and every kind of fruit growing anywhere in the neighborhood, and I seem to have inherited her jam gene. It’s such a satisfying activity, and when those dark, cold January mornings are upon us, a dollop of summertime jam on a toasted English muffin can go a long way to brightening the day.
So, with berry fever running high, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are all on our “get-’em-while-they’re great” picking/shopping to-do list, along with a replenishment supply of jam jars.
And did I forget to mention that in between berries, there are also all those cherries clamoring for attention? Ah, those lazy days of summer, when we’ve nothing to do but kick back and sip ice tea. HA!
Right now, I’m keeping a close eye on the mountain of blackberry bushes nearby. Just about the time I run out of red and blue berries, those big black beauties will be in prime picking shape, and it’s a good thing, because all of last summer’s blackberry jam disappeared over the winter.
Remember that crème brûlée I mentioned? With fresh fruit on top, especially raspberries, these are a stunning dessert to serve on a summer’s eve.
RASPBERRY CRÈME BRÛLÉE
½ of a vanilla bean, chopped into small pieces*
2 T. sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup half and half
3 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
1 pint fresh raspberries
½ to ¾ cup turbinado sugar (should be available in same place you find brown sugar, or see below to make your own topping)
Pulverize the vanilla bean and 2 T. sugar in a clean coffee grinder until powdery.
In a saucepan, stir together the cream, half and half and the vanilla sugar. Warm over med. heat just until steam rises.
In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, egg, ¼ cup sugar and salt. Temper the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture (this means to add just a small amount, whisking constantly at first until mixture is cooled down slightly to avoid cooking/curdling, then adding remaining mixture). When all the cream mixture has been thoroughly stirred in, strain it all through a sieve to remove small vanilla bean pieces, then divide among six 4 oz. ovenproof ramekins. Arrange the dishes in a shallow baking pan and carefully transfer to a preheated 325-degree oven. Add hot water to the pan to about halfway up sides of dishes and bake the custards
35-45 min., or until just set (they should wiggle like jello; tap one in the center lightly; if it’s still runny, bake 3-5 min. longer. Timing will vary depending upon depth of your ramekins, shallow ones work best.) Remove ramekins from water bath, cool, then arrange raspberries on top, wrap loosely in plastic wrap and chill until completely cold, preferably overnight.
When ready to serve, sprinkle tops of ramekins generously with turbinado sugar or sugar mixture given below and caramelize with a kitchen torch (see below), burning until the surface is caramelized and no dry sugar is visible. Let stand
3-5 min., then serve. You can put these under the broiler, but they will heat unevenly and possible cause the custard to curdle; not a good thing. Small kitchen torches are available in houseware and kitchen stores and are handy for many things.
Note re: sugar: If you can’t find turbinado sugar, mix together ½ cup brown sugar and ¼ cup sugar, spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and, after you finish baking the brûlées, turn off the oven and put the pan with the sugar inside for an hour to dry out the sugar. Transfer sugar to a food processor and pulverize until fine, then store in an airtight container until ready to use.
2 cups fresh raspberries
3 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar, or to taste (I often use Agave nectar; it mixes easily, but it’s sweeter than regular sugar so be sure to start with half the amount or less, then add as you desire to taste)
1 cup fresh lime juice
Mint sprigs for garnish
In a blender or food processor, puree 1 cup of the berries with 1 cup of the water. Force the puree through a fine sieve set over a pircher, pressing hard on the solids. Add remaining 1 cup raspberries, remaining 2 1/2 cups water, sugar (or Agave) and lime juice, stirring mixture until the sugar is dissolved. Divide among tall glasses filled with ice cubes and garnish with mint springs. Makes about 4 glasses, depending upon glass size.
Almost as delectable as the Rasberry Creme Brulee, and easy to do is this Berry Sabayon
SUMMER BERRY SABAYON
5 cups mixed fresh berries, stemmed and hulled if necessary
3 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup Cointreau, triple sec or other orange-flavored liqueur
1/4 t. freshly grated orange zest
3 T. fresh orange juice
1 T. fresh lemon juice
Divide berries among 6 dessert dishes (6-oz. souffle dishes or individual gratin dishes)
In a metal bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, Cointreau, zest and both juices. Set the bowl over a pan of barely siffering water (be sure the bowl bottom doesn’t touch the water). With a whisk or electric mixer, beat the mixture constantly until it is hot and begins to lose its foaminess. It should be slightly glossy (about 7 min.). Remove bowl immediately, beating constantly and spoon the sabayon over the berries. You can serve immediately, or if desired, you can sprinkle with a tiny bit of turbinado sugar and hit it with a small kitchen torch until just golden.
Years ago, I came across a recipe for “Everyberry Syrup,” which is an excellent way to use less than beautiful but still tasty berries and have on hand a rich, flavorful syrup made from any mixture of wild or purchased berries. The syrup keeps, chilled, for months and is great to use over other fruit or ice creams, or mixed with sparkling water or wine for a great drink. If you’d like the syrup recipe, please e-mail me and I’ll be sure you get it, or if you don’t e-mail (and I do know people who don’t), call the Record office and they’ll let me know you want it.
Margaret Walton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.