In the Garden
July is said to be the hottest month of the year, “dog days,” when hot, sultry climates take over our lives and promote many hours near water. Named after the Roman general Julius Caesar by the Roman senate, soaring mercury definitely drives habits and tempers as any good general would.
Summer is here, and what a long, strange trip it has been. Many long-slumbering, water-thirsty plants have been provoked after the wetter than usual winter and spring. Fruits, bulbs, and berries have awakened, creating one of the plushest early summer produce seasons on recent record. Cherries are pretty much out, but sauntering in are some of the sweetest stone fruits I have sampled in years. White nectarines, yellow peaches, King Kong plums, pluots, apriums, you name it. Varieties are dazzling enough to compete with aforementioned dog days to shake off any heat-related doldrums you may be incurring.
Responding especially lusciously well, berries are taking over farmers’ markets, with scents wafting off many bowed tables, beckoning for consumption. Blueberries, olallieberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries - all in droves at unseasonably low prices - await purchase and consumption while tantalizing visions of pies, tarts, crisps, and jams dance on overactive palates. Summertime in California and the Northwest translates into berry porn. Out on a trail or side of a lane somewhere beautiful, there’s sure to be blackberry or elderberry bushes, filled to drunken blue jay capacity and dripping juice, plumply and proudly waiting for human or avian picking. With this amazing profusion of berries, scientists, in all their curiosity and stamina, created the amazing, fat, juicy olallieberry. Pronounced oh-la-leh, it is a tender, dainty little cross between the loganberry and the youngberry. Each of which is a cross among blackberries, raspberries, and loganberries. Could get confusing if one lingered on the wherefores, but placing said olallieberry on your tongue and closing your eyes as it melts into your taste buds should alleviate all doubts of origin as it is replaced by sheer berry bliss.
Simple uses of berries
Top short cakes of the pound or biscuit variety with berries macerated in a drop of sugar to pull out the juices, along with a touch of water and Grand Marnier; set aside and forget for a few hours, then drape over cake and top with honey sweetened, whipped mascarpone. In a word, heavenly. Tossed into fresh market greens along with feta and toasted, chopped almonds dressed with lemon juice and olive oil creates a salad fit for any party table, large or small. Mixed into any seasonal fruit combination, it makes a tasty salad, but mixed into granola and yogurt and topped with honey defines early morning breakfast splendor. Whether lovingly fresh picked along the canal trail or bought at the farmers’ market, seasonal berries take the cake.
Shortcakes for any kind of Fruit!
I like a nice, fluffy, barely sweetened biscuit for my shortcake. Warm from the oven with just a touch of butter on it, ladled with cut up fruit that has been able to macerate for an hour or so, possibly with a bit of Framboise or Grand Mainer and a dollop of honey sweetened whipped mascarpone, this is shortcake nirvana.
2 ¼ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons melted butter
¾ cup buttermilk or milk
Preheat oven to 425*. Butter a pie tin or glass. Sift dry ingredients into a bowl: flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Cut the 4 tablespoons butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers or a pastry blender until it resembles dry breadcrumbs. Add the milk and mix quickly until dough comes together in a sort of sticky mass. Pat into pie pan, brush with 2 tablespoons melted butter, and sprinkle teaspoon of sugar on top. Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly brown on top. Cut into 8 wedges.