We are staring down the last week of school and we are all too ready for the holiday.

The other night, at the end of the longest day, I realized how much I'm looking forward to this season. Not just for the days at the pool, the road trips planned, and ice cream cones promised after dinner. There's also the need to feel the exuberance of it somehow. It's a feeling I've had before. And, it feels good to feel it again, as things seemed slightly offset lately. Like when the printing plates don't line up exactly right so whatever you're reading has a shadow aura hovering slightly to one side. You can see what things are supposed to look like, but can't quite trick your eyes into seeing them right.

And so, here's to summer, and to Strawberry Rhubarb Almond Crumble — it has a trick in the crumble that changes the game entirely. It's a recipe to keep for when stone fruits are around. Happy days, pals. Talk again soon.

 

STRAWBERRY RHUBARB ALMOND CRUMBLE

The first of many Always Good Recipes from Tara O'Brady and Nikole Herriott. 

Recipe HERE

Things you might not know about me, arranged in no particular order:

I'm not  tall. You might say I'm short. I make terrible, terrifyingly-bad coffee. I named my childhood dog after a chocolate bar. His identification tag is on my keychain. At one brief time in my life, I played tambourine in a band. I am clumsy. I scar easily. I've got me some souvenirs.

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There's a constellation of burns at the inside of my wrist collected from splattering oil. I have a pair of lines across one of my forearms, branded on separate occasions by a scorching oven rack and a searing baking sheet, respectively. I wonder at how many times I knocked my noggin or shin on the wheelhouse steps on one of my father's ships. There's the mark where my knife skipped on the board and caught my finger. I've got a skinny red line that rests on my collarbone as a necklace, and a number of freckle-ish spots by my ankles from falling over sticks and rocks. 

On the side of my left knee, raised and pale, there's a scar that is maybe three inches long. It is wider at the top and tapers to a point at the end. Last summer, when someone asked me how it happened, I tripped on my words. It's a mark I've had on me for the majority of my life, three-quarters of it at least, yet I've long discarded its circumstance. I don't remember if I cried, or who patched up the wound, or if I needed stitches. I don't think I did. 

I have a hazy recollection that I cut myself on an air conditioner as a kid? Yes, maybe on the air conditioner, the one between our house and that of our neighbours. I can tell you the siding was white on our house and pale, sunny yellow on theirs. There was gravel between them, and I can still hear how sounded under our feet. 

I remember what summer was like back then. I remember the important things.

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My mother grew the best roses on the street — big, heavy blooms the size of baseballs. My father would buy ice cream in those rectangular boxes, then break the carton open and pull back the sides, so ice cream stood as a block in the centre. He'd use a carving knife to slice off pieces thick like steaks. I remember melon balls cold from the fridge, and popcorn from the big orange popper we had, and the thermos that was always filled with hot, hot milk tea for long car rides. I remember jumping the fence because we couldn't reach the latch to the backyard, and the cluster of trees we used as a hideout.

I remember my parents had pool parties that lasted into the night, when we'd be allowed to stay up past dark. We'd even get Coke to drink. I'd swallow it fast, the bubbles tight in my throat. The adults sat at a round table close to the gate, while all us kids were in the water. The chlorine stung my eyes; when I looked at the lanterns tucked around the garden, the light shone with blue halos. I remember riding our bicycles down to the lake, trying to keep up with my big brother, going to watch the fireworks on Canada Day. Standing there breathless, sweaty, still straddling the bike seats, leaning forward on our handle bars and chewing gum. We were due home as soon as the last sparkles burned out in the black of the sky, when we were left with stars.

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I am, sometimes acutely, aware that my children are now the same age I was in some of those memories of mine.

It is the leading edge of summer; there's already been fun fairs and field trips, and cubbies to clean out, and day-before-yesterday, the last day of school. We're at the brink of a place deep with possibility. I've decided to pack for the leap, with a supply of strawberry limeade ice pops. Some for the boys, and some for us adults, made prickly with the bitter of Campari.

These flavours pull very much from those years ago. Strawberries grew on the side of that white house, right beside mint. When Sean and I moved to where we live now we planted some along the side of this house, because summer has to have strawberries. And it's the season to go for the gusto with lime. I was the kid that dug for the lemon-lime or lime popsicles from the freezer at the corner store, diving waist-deep through the sliding cooler top to search. If I thought I had the right one, I would hold the package up to the shop window to make sure it was tinged truly green, and not the deceiving, disappointing, yellow of banana. 

The mouth-watering pucker of lime also recalls nimbu pani, the salty-sweet limeade we'd have in India. 

For these ice pops, the fruit is blitzed with a pour of honey to a sharply fragrant purée, and goes first into the mould. There's a specific strategy to the design; eating the bright berries first, with the tongue-tingling acidity of the lime, is like the spark that lights a fuse. Without fat or too much sugar, the flavour is icily intense and clear, spiky and crystallized. Then comes the second layer, mellow vanilla-specked frozen yogurt, a supple balm to the intensity before. With these, first there's fizzle, then fade.

I may leave the coffee to my husband, but popsicles, those I've got covered.

 

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The last time I wrote about ice pops was for  UPPERCASE  magazine, Issue 10. UPPERCASE is headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, and as you might already know, there has been recent, devastating floods to that region. If you would like more information, I suggest you follow author Julie Van Rosendaal on her site and Twitter; she has been a force through the storm and the recovery and cleanup efforts. 

For those who would like to donate to the Flood Rebuilding Fund, The Calgary Foundation is doing great work. If you would like to support UPPERCASE, they are  having a sale until July 7th, and as products ship through Toronto and Los Angeles, orders are still being filled.

To everyone in the effected areas, all the best thoughts and hopes to you. 

 

CAMPARI STRAWBERRY LIMEADE ICE POPS

The frozen yogurt comes from the book "The Perfect Scoop" by David Lebovitz  (Ten Speed Press, 2007), recipe available via Heidi Swanson, and it is the best one I can imagine. 

The measurements for the fruit layer are somewhat loosey goosey. Depending on your fruit you might want more or less honey or lime, and you can scale the ratios accordingly. My only warning, it's best to be a miser with the alcohol  — you might be able to sneak some more in, but too much will prevent the ice pops from setting properly, and nobody wants a droopy pop. That said, if you want to serve these doused with extra after the fact, go right ahead.

Turning out all the ice pops at once frees up your mould for another batch, and means kids can help themselves from the freezer, which is nice. It's helpful to colour the sticks of theirs with permanent marker, so they know which ones to grab.

As an aside, these pops were coincidentally patriotic, as this is the Canada Day weekend here. For the upcoming 4th of July or Bastille Day, a streak of blackberry or blueberry could dress them up for your celebrations. Hooray for holidays, pals!

 

INGREDIENTS

  • One batch homemade plain or vanilla frozen yogurt, or about 1 quart store bought (there will be some leftover)
  • 10 ounces strawberries, hulled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons mild, runny honey
  • Juice and zest of 1 small lime, if you can get key limes, use them and use 2
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Campari, for the grownups

 

METHOD

In a medium bowl, stir together the strawberries, honey, most of the lime juice and all the zest. Let sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes, stirring every now and again. Purée the fruit in a blender. Stir in the Campari and taste. It should be punchy, as the flavour will mellow once frozen. Keeping that in mind, add more lime juice or honey as needed. Divide the purée between 10 3-ounce popsicle moulds, rapping the mould on the counter to release any air pockets. Freeze for 15-20 minutes to firm up, or a full hour for a neat delineation between flavours.

If you are making the frozen yogurt from scratch, churn while the strawberry layer sets. If you're using store bought, put it in the refrigerator to soften. 

Spoon the frozen yogurt on top of the strawberry purée. Use a chopstick or extra popsicle stick to release any air bubbles, and swirl the two mixtures, if desired. (Alternatively, the purée and frozen yogurt can be dolloped randomly, without freezing first, which will allow them to marble easily.) Cover and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

Once frozen, release the solid ice pops by running hot water over the moulds. Store the pops in a sealed, airtight container in the freezer, separating layers with parchment paper.  

Makes 10. 

 

I originally called these boozy ice pops — by no means should there be a restriction on what to use. While Campari and soda is my thing, it might not be yours, so here are some other suggestions: 

  • Pimm's No. 1 + strawberry + mint
  • Tequila + mango + mint or lime
  • Aperol + orange + raspberry
  • Kirsch + cherry + citrus  
  • St. Germain + blueberry + mint
  • Proseco + blackberry + lemon thyme (remove thyme after steeping)
  • Gin + plum + ginger
  • Cachaça + watermelon + salt + lime
  • Bourbon + peach + mint 

 

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Excuse the announcement but, as there were some kind requests for one, I've added an email subscription feature to this site. You can click "subscribe" up there on the top bar, or right here.

corn with scapes, chilies and cilantro

If you skip ahead and read down below, you'll see I'm offering up some stuffed poblanos for lunch. Though if we're being frank, and I think we should be, the stuffing is really the take away today. That corn, and its countless variations, is something I've been making for ages, and I find myself tucking it into all manner of meals.

It started with this soufflé I think — hi there, terrible old point and shoot camera photo — that summer was a good one for corn and our now six-year-old, then less than two, was a major fan. I'd cook it until just barely tender, in butter with salt and pepper, fresh off the cobs we'd buy at the farmstand. Then I started adding onion, then garlic, then lime and herbs, and sometimes peppers, served hot and warm and at room temperature. As long as there was corn to start, there was a clean plate to finish.

And so ever since, sautéed corn has been in our rotation. As the base to corn puddings; cooked in olive oil and stirred through with torn basil, for a side along with a chicken that was spatchcocked and roasted over flames; or with fresh oregano in a salad, offering sweet against the aggressive salt of feta; or with slices of young chèvre in skinny omelets.

Like I said, it's useful... 

 

To read the rest, and get the recipe for poblano chiles stuffed with corn, please visit Seven Spoons.
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at the farm stand

I'm writing at our dining table, having recently moved from one side to the other so as to catch more of the breeze from the open window (now) to my right. I can see across the house from this seat. I can see that out the front window the sun is shining bright like August while, weirdly, over the backyard the sky looks pale grey, dressed in the damp clothes of September.

Autumn's around the bend. That said, we're enjoying these days as we head in its direction.

On Saturday, we set out to snag some peaches; our fourth basket in under three weeks, if my tally is correct. That's the math of late summer. It's the season for a peach feast, and we're enthusiastically obliging. We took along iced tea sweet with lemonade and rugged with ice, because even the shortest of road trips deserve a beverage when the sun's out.

We were aiming for a fruit stand we can get to by taking the long way 'round; twisting through back roads and skirting woods and crossing fields. 

We needed the peaches, because there's a drink I've wanted to tell you about, a grown up one. It's a cocktail with peach and lime and mint, spiked with cachaça - the sort of sip that bounces across the tongue like a stone skipping on a lake. Flitting, flirtily, then ending with a splash. I like it a whole lot. 

That's not for today, because I got distracted. First, by the couple that owns the stand. They're older, with warm smiles, soft speech and a sharp wit. Their house is beside their stand, with their trees running behind both. She gently pointed out the fruit she thought best, and he talked to my eldest about tractors. We talked about how things are growing, about when the pears might be ready, and about the thermos of coffee stashed behind the baskets of fruit.

Then I was distracted again, this time by plums. They were lookers. 

In the case of pretty plums, we did what must be done. We bought a basket, one bigger than sensible. We ate a few in the car on the drive back, along with the blackberries and one of the peaches, because we bought them too. We stained our hands sticky with juice, slurped our tea through straws and then decided what was to be done with the bounty of our greed.

The endpaper to Canal House Cooking Volume No. 4 is a scene of summer's generosity; plums are laid out on a white platter with their emerald, curling leaves still attached; squat looking peaches cozy up to glossy nectarines, apples and pears are in the middle with their yellow-green skin; a punnet of blackberries shine like night from the corner of the frame, beside the matte navy of blueberries. The subtitle for the volume is "Farm Markets and Gardens", and it's a bullseye of an image - summing up everything best of the farm stand we'd visited, and fittingly, it's where I was reminded of the recipe that inspired the dessert we settled upon to celebrate the plums. 

In the pages between those endpapers, you'll find a recipe for a Berry Cobbler by Pam Anderson. It's the cobbler that got me started on cobblers, with basically a butter cookie as topper for a layer of vanilla-scented fruit. That's where I began with my thoughts on these plums, as there's a footnote that gives the gentle suggestion of Italian prune plums in place of the berries. I want prune plums for a cake my Mum and I were discussing, so the shockingly-hued reddish golden ones would be my chosen substition for cobbler.

I took some detours along the route to where we ended up, turning down brown butter boulevard for example, but Anderson's cobbler was where we set off from.

Brown butter was beaten with sugar, then an egg and vanilla added to that, along with a mix of flours and some ground almonds. It was basically a rustic shortbread dough - just holding together, gritty with nuts with flecks of brown from the whole wheat and almond skins showing through. It chilled while I set about preparing the plums. They were tossed in brown sugar, cornstarch and a discriminating amount of spices; cinnamon and ginger for a buzz of warmth underneath the plum's sweet acerbity. 

The dough was spooned and crumbled over the fruit, and we were ready for the oven. It felt a pie-dish kind of day, so that's what I used, and even though the syrup bubbled over and stuck to the pan, I didn't mind at all.

When baked, the dough crisps on top but soft underneath, with its belly sagging into the fruit. It tastes very much like a biscuit cookie has been crushed on top of a bowl of stewy, supple fruit. In halves and quarters, the pointed edges of the plums droop as they cook, while keeping some shape. There's luxurious weight to them still. The brilliant, fiery orange-pink of the skin seeps into the golden flesh and into the juice, so the colour ends up a mix of peaches and raspberry, though the flavour is plum through and through.

Acting like August or pretending to be September, whatever this day wants to be, wherever it leads, there's cobbler left in the dish and spoons in the drawer, and that's all I need to know.

Brown butter plum cobbler

Inspired by a recipe from Pam Anderson, from her book The Perfect Recipe (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001) via Canal House Cooking Volume No. 4 - a publication that inspires with every issue. The original recipe calls this a cobbler, with a cookie crust that slightly sinks into bright puddles of fruit. It's a grand dessert, and I urge you to seek it out and try it as written. In fact, try as many recipes as you can from Anderson's book, which is one I consider an essential to have around. Not only is she chatty, witty and totally approachable in her cooking, what's more is that her recipes work. Every. Single. Time. They're tested and then tested again, and she's generous enough to share the results of all that effort.

This recipe is on offshoot of one of her variations for cobbler that best fulfilled our craving yesterday. My changes makes this something different; it has a sandier topping that might tread into the definition of a crisp. But since I'm no expert, and Anderson surely is, I'm leaving her title intact. 

I should say that the sugar may be scant for some tastes and is dependant on the fruit; plums are sour and the amount I used kept the twang that hits the point at the back of your jaw right below the ear - it's not so much that the muscle clenches, but there's still a twitch. 

For the topping

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons ground almonds, see note
  • 1/2 cup fine grained raw cane sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar packed, or more, depending on your fruit
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds plums, pitted, halved if small, quartered if large

Method

In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt and ground almonds. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter, swirling occasionally. Once the butter has melted, continue to swirl the pot, as the butter begins to darken and brown. When the butter is amber in colour and aromatic, remove it from the heat and pour into a medium heat safe bowl to cool slightly. Pour in the sugar, and beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture lightens in colour. Stir in the egg yolk and vanilla. Add the flours and stir until combined. Refrigerate the dough and preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C).

Combine the cornstarch with the brown sugar, spices and salt in a medium bowl. Add the plums and toss gently to coat. 

Tumble the plums into an 8-inch square baking dish. Drop the dough by heaped spoonfuls over the fruit, covering evenly. Bake in the preheated oven until the juices are bubbling and the topping is golden brown, about 40-45 minutes. Let stand to cool slightly before serving.

Serves 4-6.

Notes:

  • I think almond is a fine compliment to stone fruit desserts for its subtle, fragrant sweetness and, in this case, its texture as well. I used a handful of natural, skin-on almonds, pulsing them in a food processor to a fairly small, uneven meal. Alternatively, this can be omitted and use a few drops of almond extract instead. On cooler days, hazelnuts or walnuts might be my choice instead.

*******

Something to share:

  • My dear friend Tara Austen Weaver wrote a stunner of an ebook about Japan, to benefit Japan and the continued rebuilding efforts after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami last March. The book is now available for purchase, and she's written about her project here.
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IMG_69912

Eton Mess, at its simplest, is technically only one step up from strawberries and cream but what makes it somewhere around a million times better is the addition of crumbled meringues. Named after the famed boy's school in England, there are a variety of stories regarding the origin of the recipe but few that dispute its charms. 

It is something that wandered into my consideration a while ago, a recipe I'd made before but had unaccountably fallen by the wayside. 

There it was, back again, distracting me while I was folding laundry. Eton Mess. And then as I was supposed to be paying attention to a movie. Raspberry Eton Mess. And again in the midst writing a grocery list, what leaps onto the page but all the ingredients for Frozen Raspberry Eton Mess.

Eton Mess, Eton Mess, Eton Mess. It was my Tell-tale Heart, only delectable.

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And yes, frozen. The impulse for ice had hit me the the day before, when we turned down a street outside of our normal route, seeking its shade from a particularly-hot afternoon.

It's a street I love, a long avenue - so long that it is difficult to see its end. When you stand at its top you feel that distance stretch in front of you like a current. That length, that space, that breath of air.

Ash trees line the street. Each has a partner directly opposite and they are old enough that their branches meet in the middle and intertwine, like pairs of hands clasped in that song I remember from when I was little. "Here's the church, here's the steeple ..." 

It is perpetually cool and dim there this time of year, to all appearances existing in its own climate. And as you walk under that arched roof of branches, translucent green leaves above that cast a filigree shadow below, creating a grey and black damask upon the pavement. You feel as though you're down the emerald corridor on you way to meet the Wizard in Oz. 

We were halfway down that road when it struck me, I wanted a dessert that tasted as blessedly chilled as that place felt. My Eton Mess would be a frozen one.

i do like a sugar cone

To end my preoccupation, I settled on pureéd raspberries and a generous pile of meringue, stirred into peaks of cream touched with the tart freshness of crème fraîche. Against the toothy sweetness of the meringues, whose soft middles are marshmallow-rich, that crème fraîche helps to keep everything sprightly and springy. 

Although already peppy with fruit and coolly sour, I've included a few spoonfuls of lemon curd. It has a pure acidity that suits the chill of the fridge, and the nip of the freezer even better. Cold, its very lemoness seems to brighten even more if that's possible. It's like an exclamation mark to finish a phrase.

What we ended with was a dessert that had the qualities of pavlova but the citrus-twanged hit of a Creamsicle. 

That said, this is not ice cream, but is iced cream. It will freeze quite solid but wait and it will, all of a sudden, turn soft and yielding, as lush and rich as a semifreddo. We scooped ours, and if you plan to follow suit I would recommend a large shallow dish (rather than the tall one I've pictured) to ensure even freezing and optimal scoopability. Or, for ease, you can freeze individual portions in ramekins to be turned out as molded desserts.

Either way, it's up to you. It suits a spoon but is immensely lickable. But if you opt for the latter, I'll give you one last piece of advice and whisper two words: Sugar Cones. Truly. If you're going to do it, go full on.

I've mentioned Oz, I've invoked Poe, I sang and told you about Eton Mess. My work here is done and my mind is free and clear.

I have a feeling though, it won't be for long, because there are blueberries about and peaches (peaches!) are in season. 

Until next time.

FROZEN RASPBERRY ETON MESS

This recipe from BBC Good Food was my jumping off point for the lemon curd, and I think it is what makes this dessert. I have added a concentrated sugar syrup (basically a pale caramel) to the cream in an attempt to keep it as luscious as possible when frozen.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 2 cups heavy (whipping) cream, divided
  • Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 1/4 cup raspberry purée, divided, see note
  • 1/4 cup lemon curd, divided, see note
  • 4 ounces meringues

METHOD

In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan stir the sugar into 3 tablespoons of water until it is dissolved. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Leave to bubble, without stirring or agitation, until the sugar becomes thick and syrupy and the bubbles begin to slow. This will take around 6 minutes.  

Meanwhile, warm 1/2 cup of the cream on the stove or in the microwave. Do not boil, just warm. 

When the sugar syrup is ready (it may have a hint of colour and that's okay), carefully whisk the warm cream into the sugar. Keep stirring, bring back to a boil and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, scrape in the vanilla seeds and sprinkle in the salt. Stir again to combine. Set aside to cool.

Once cool, pour the sweetened cream into the remaining heavy cream and refrigerate until cold.

Strain the chilled cream through a fine-meshed sieve into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat the cream into soft peaks. Fold in the crème fraîche.

Roughly crumble in the meringues. Drizzle almost all of the raspberry purée over top and fold for a rippled look. Spoon most of the lemon curd into the dessert, folding one last time until lightly marbled. Pour the dessert into a freezer-safe container. Use the remaining purée and curd to decorate the top.

Freeze until firm (the timing will depend on the specific dimensions of the container used). 

Place the dessert into the refrigerator of 20 minutes, or at room temperature for 10 minutes, before serving. Spoon into bowls or scoop into cones and enjoy. 

Notes: 

  • For the raspberry purée, I make a small batch of this recipe, substituting the strawberries.
  • When making the lemon curd I used one lime (and its zest) in with the lemons; it has a deeper, sharper sourness that I think is especially nice with raspberries. While we're on the subject, passion fruit curd would be heavenly.

*******

Just in case you'd like to know, the latest issue of UPPERCASE Magazine is out! In it you'll find my recipe for Black Raspberry Milkshakes, the testing for which pretty much convinced our eldest that milkshakes should be considered an essential part of his everyday. A look at the shakes is here, and a glimpse between the covers is here.

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humid

Unless I'm forgetting a pivotal rhubarb-related incident from the wilds of my childhood, I do not hold any nostalgia-based predilection for it. Not an ounce, not an iota.

I can't recall my first taste of rhubarb. I can't even tell you, in a tone with longing evident, of the time I had a certain dish that changed my life forever because of its rhubarbed glory.

I learned to cook rhubarb because those I love the most like it very much. A boringly straightforward reason, I know.

It is not for lack of want, because I do believe that everyone should have a rhubarb story. And if I'm being my most upfront self, I should admit it was partly this shortcoming of my storytelling that had me quiet the last few days. You see, I wanted to talk about rhubarb, and the rhubarb syrup that is essential to my new favourite drink, but couldn't decide upon where to begin.

But now I do. The other day I was someone's backyard to celebrate a family birthday. There were ladies in broad sun hats and floral-print dresses. Children, including my own, ran barefoot in determined pursuit of butterflies. There were stories scored by that that specific laughter synonymous with family; familiar, teasing and affectionate.

We walked among flowers in bloom and those just beginning. I walked with Benjamin across soft grass, knelt down to pull back a parasol of leaves to reveal slender stalks of green turned blush. "It's Strawberry Rhubarb," I was told by his Great Grandfather. "That plant has been in our family forever."

You can't beat that.

I hardly would believe this peaceful place smack in middle of a city, at the height of the heat of a hot, hot June day, could exist so perfectly sweetly had I not been there myself. An afternoon when ticks of the clock matched the imagined click of a shutter, each moment a worthy capture and keeping.

That, right there, was my rhubarb moment. It's the story that I'll stick with.

drinking summer

This syrup made its way on the scene earlier than all of that. I made it over a week prior, and have been sipping it steadily in drinks. So steadily, that I've become mildly addicted to it. Muddled with mint, then lightened with sparkling water, it is suggestive of cream soda with a heady, rounded vanilla sweetness, but herbal and sour at the same time.

We're almost out, I'm sorry to say. In happy news, I've just had word that some more rhubarb, from that very garden I mentioned, has been picked and is on its waiting for us. My heart, feet and greedy appetite skipped at that.

If you try this, I think yours might too. Happy summer, friends.

RHUBARB SYRUP

A tweaked version of a Nigella Lawson method. I like my finished syrup to have the approximate consistency of maple syrup. Depending on the rhubarb used and your own tastes, it might be necessary to further reduce the liquid in a saucepan on the stove (after the fruit has been sieved out).

INGREDIENTS

  • A generous 2 pounds (1 kilogram) rhubarb, cleaned and trimmed
  • 3/4 to 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 fresh vanilla bean, split
  • Juice from half a lime, optional

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 375°F (190 °C).

Cut the rhubarb into chunks, mine were about 2-inches in length. Skinny stalks can be a bit longer, fat ones can be more stout - you want everything to cook in reasonably similar time.

Pour the 3/4 cup of the sugar into a large roasting pan or ovenproof casserole. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean with the dull side of a knife and drop them into the sugar. Add the bean too. Using your hands, rub the vanilla seeds and pod into the sugar, breaking up clumps of seeds as you go. Once thoroughly mixed, add the rhubarb and toss to coat.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and roast for 35-45 minutes until the rhubarb is soft when pierced with the tip of a knife, but not falling to mush. Remove the foil and roast for another 5-10 minutes, to further reduce the collected liquid (keep in mind, the syrup will continue to thicken as it cools).

Using a fine-meshed sieve, strain the juices from the rhubarb. Stir the fruit to extract as much liquid as possible, but be careful not to push any solids through that might mar the clarity of the syrup. Remove the vanilla pod from the fruit in the sieve.

At this point the fruit can be reserved for another use.

While the syrup is warm but not hot, check for sweetness. Depending on your taste and the specific qualities of your rhubarb, you might want to add a bit more sugar or a squeeze of lime. Once to your liking, chill thoroughly.

The syrup can be used as you would a simple syrup in cocktails and lemonade, or simply over ice with sparkling water and mint. It's particularly nice over scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Keep both the fruit and syrup refrigerated until needed.

Makes around 2 cups, depending on the fruit and the thickness of the reduction.

Notes:

  • I like to fork the fruit into a chunky compote, then eat it with Greek yogurt, and an extra pour of syrup to finish.
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I won't keep you long because there are strawberries to be eaten and the clock is already tick-tock ticking.

I'll begin with credit where credit is due. What we have here is a recipe from Jamie Oliver, and it's a winner. You take strawberries, lop of their tops so that they're hulled neatly and stand on end like a berried mountain range. You slice a few knobs of stem ginger and pop them in the dish, along with some of their syrup. Then squish out the seeds of a plump vanilla bean over the fruit and toss in the pod after. Last, there's a slosh of Pimm's (No. 1), the gin-based liqueur synonymous with British summer.

I'll stop here for a moment, because the mention of Pimm's makes me weak in the knees. I first came to know it over the summer job that took me through high school. I worked for a theatre company, plays not movies, and each season there was an event that had Pimm's Cup as its signature drink. I can't think of Pimm's without thinking of those wickedly-hot days - the heavy scent of gin, cucumbers and lemon, miles of glasses lined up in rows, full of ice and looking like the most refreshing drink that there ever was.

No. 1 is sunshine and hot shoulders, and the best of those years.

Anyway, back to today, and back to that dish of berries. Tucked under the hottest broiler you can muster, their attentive peaks get lazy in the heat, slouching down and slumping over. They'll be warmed through but not cooked, only enough that the strawberries turn juicy and plush. The preserved ginger has the assertive heat and deep-bellied hum of the June sun, while the suggestion of citrus brought by the Pimm's rings all the high notes.

It's up and down and all around like a roller coaster at the fair. Which is to say, these might be the strawberries to end all strawberries.

I used local fruit, the kind that for 11 months of the year you convince yourself you've imagined in an fit of idealized fancy. And then, blessed be, it is summer and here they are. Fruit ruby to its centre, fragrant in a way that reminds of roses and honey jumbled up together. They are beautiful, yes, but in their irregularity. Nubbled, bumpy - one in our punnet bore a distinct resemblance to a miniature turban squash.

They're strawberries out of Enid Blyton. Rustic and brave - and left whole they have more oomph than is usually attributed to cooked fruit. Good enough that I may have been stingy in my dinner portion one evening, just to leave that much more room for dessert.

But that's just between you and me.

Now, don't dally, off you go while the strawberries are around. See you soon.

melt

GRILLED STRAWBERRIES WITH PIMM'S 

The strawberries are served with softened ice cream, and make sure yours is soft as you want it to further melt into the juices at the bottom of the dish - its texture should match that of the fruit. On top of that is some mashed cookie rubble, and like the crust to a fruit pie it gives foundation to the softness of berry and cream. Finally some mint, which in coincidence always grew beside the strawberries in my childhood garden. Its flavour rubs off unto the berries and seeps into the ice cream very nicely.

Stem ginger in syrup is young, tender ginger that has been peeled then preserved in a sugar syrup.

Recipe, via jamieoliver.com

Notes:

  • I used crushed gingersnaps instead of the shortbread from the recipe - they have a true crunch, rather than the crumble of shortbread, which was what we were looking for. It hardly needs explanation that their flavour boosted and brought a layer of brightness to that of the stem ginger beneath.
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Authortara
Categoriesdessert, summer
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