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Summer Berries

Text by: Christine Pethel

There's just so much to love about summer. School is out, the temperature begins to rise, and the sun is bright, making it almost imperative to spend our days outdoors. Some have the luxury of living near a sandy beach or spending their entire summer poolside. It's the perfect time for taking vacations, picnics in the park, or cool sunset walks. What's not to love about summer?

When I really pay attention, I can actually tell summer is coming, even before it warms up and we're "forced" into the swimming pools. I don't know what it is… there's just something in the air. It could be the huge blossoms on cherry trees getting ready to sprout bright, red, plump cherries in the fields practically in my backyard. Or it could be the scent of the sweet, red strawberries growing in my mom's backyard. It might also be the plethora of bright reds, blues, and blacks on display at the local farmer's market, grocery stores, and fruit stands. I start noticing local restaurants' billboards for fresh strawberry pie or blueberry cobbler, and my mouth begins to water.

I'll have to admit, though, I'm not the biggest fan of summer. Even though there is so much to love about it, with my china white skin, I soak up the heat and burn more quickly than you can say "lobster." But berries have become my summertime "go to remedy" for beating the heat.

© Felicity Maria Photography

It might be because picking berries in the summertime are some of the first memories I have of the mid-year months. We would bring baskets up to the top of a hill at my mom's best friend's house. She had rows and rows of blooming raspberries. I remember picking as many as my fingers would allow until the prickles forced me to take refuge on the trampoline. Jumping and flipping could soothe any bleeding finger. We would take those berries home and try to do as much as we could with them. We would make yummy, freezer jam and sometimes freeze them for ice cream toppings. I'm sure we had grand plans to do much more, but my sisters and I always fizzled out because of the thorny stickers. I'm sure my mom, who was left with all the work, fizzled out, too. But oh, how I can remember the taste of those fresh, ripe, pesticide-free berries. They're so much better than what you buy in the store.

Nowadays, I anxiously wait for the day when berries start showing up on roadside stands — first it's the strawberries, and then come the cherries. I love being able to pull over, hand the vendor some coins, and in return receive a brown, paper sack full of the most succulent summer fruit imaginable. And on any hot day, these delicacies can refresh my parched soul faster than any bottle of water or Gatorade can.

My sister tells her children that berries are "God's candy." I thoroughly concur.

My favorite find this year? Gooseberries. Have you ever tried them? They're bright yellow, little, round berries, resembling small, yellow cherry tomatoes, protected by the ugliest papery leaf. They're a bit sour at first, but oh, once cooked, they have a rich and succulent flavor. You can make Gooseberry Crumble, Gooseberry Pie, Gooseberry Sauce, and something called "Gooseberry Fail" which is a basically cooked fruit and cream.

So it's all gooseberry recipes for me this summer… that is, after I take my family down to the local strawberry fields to pick our own baskets full of berries. It's too bad there's not a trampoline to take refuge on, but I'll keep them entertained by reminding them of all the delicious foods we'll prepare once we get home.

© Felicity Maria Photography

Strawberry Cream Cheese French Toast

Submitted by reader, Nanette Steimle

  • 8 slices Day-old French country bread- sliced thin
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk or half-and-half
  • 1 container strawberries, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Whip eggs & milk together in a shallow bowl. Spread cream cheese on one side of half of the bread slices. Top with a layer of sliced strawberries and cover with the remaining bread. Soak both sides of the sandwich in the egg batter (this takes a minute to be sure it soaks completely).

Melt butter in a heavy skillet, and place French toast in pan. Sprinkle cinnamon on top, and once the eggs on the underside are set, turn to cook other side. Heat until golden brown. Serve with Butter Syrup (see recipe below)


Butter Syrup

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (If you don't have buttermilk, you can make your own with 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice and 1/2 cup milk)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Melt butter in pan. Add buttermilk and sugar. Bring to a boil, and add vanilla. Hold pan a little above heat and add baking soda. It will bubble up very fast, which is what you want, but you need just a little bit of heat to encourage the frothy appearance. Then immediately remove from heat.


Fresh Summer Berry Torte

(German "Erdbeertorte")
Submitted by reader, Marcela Bates

  • 2 eggs, separated
  • Pinch salt
  • 3 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 1/2 cups ground almonds
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 lb. fresh berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries)
  • 1/4 tsp. gelatin (or 1 leaf)
  • 3 oz. unsweetened apple juice
  • 1 small pack of vanilla sugar (confectioner sugar with flavor, substitute plain confectioner's sugar
  • 1 small pack of whipping cream

***If using a store bought angel cake torte base, omit first five ingredients.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Beat egg whites with pinch of salt until stiff. Stir in honey. Fold in stirred egg yolks. Mix ground almonds and cornstarch together. Add to egg white mixture and mix gently.

Put batter into greased 8-inch springform pan. Bake 20 minutes or until done. Let cake cool. Remove from pan, and place on cake plate. Replace outer ring of springform pan around cake.

Arrange berries on cake in a pattern. Prepare gelatin according to package. Heat apple juice, and dissolve gelatin in heated apple juice. Spoon gelatin over berries, and let set. Remove springform ring.


Gooseberry Crumble

  • 2 pounds (about 4-5 cups) gooseberries, leaves peeled and stems clipped
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Heat oven to 350° F

Place gooseberries in an ovenproof, glass dish and sprinkle generously with white sugar.

In a bowl, cut flour and butter together until they resemble fine breadcrumbs. Stir in brown sugar and cinnamon. Crumble the dry mix over the top of the gooseberries until all has been used trying to create a somewhat even layer. Bake for about 30 minutes until the top is browned and the fruit begins to bubble


Vanilla-Infused, Chocolate-Dipped Bing Cherries

  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 12 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 36 Bing Cherries with stems

Pour the sugar in an even layer into a shallow dish. Add two drops of vanilla at a time into the dish in 36 separate places to form lumps of vanilla sugar. Set aside to allow the lumps to harden.

Pit the cherries carefully from the bottom, possibly using a small paring knife. Make sure the stem stays intact. When the lumps of sugar have hardened, insert them into the cherries where the pits were; set aside.

Melt chocolate in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until melted and smooth.

Hold cherries by the stem and dip into the chocolate leaving the very top uncovered. Set on waxed paper to dry. Refrigerate overnight to allow the sugar lumps to dissolve.


Blueberry Pancakes

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp. butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries

In a large bowl, mix flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.

In a small bowl, beat together egg and milk. Stir milk and egg into flour mixture. Mix in butter, and fold in blueberries. Set aside for 1 hour.

Heat a lightly oiled frying pan over medium-high heat. Pour or scoop about 1/4 cup batter onto the griddle for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

Add syrup and/or whipped cream, and top with fresh blueberries.


Cranberry Orange Scones

by Ina Garten

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional 1/4 cup
  • 1/4 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
  • 2 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. grated orange zest
  • 3/4 lb. cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 4 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 egg beaten with 2 Tbsp. water or milk, for egg wash
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, plus additional 2 Tbsp.
  • 4 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice

Preheat oven to 400° F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix 4 cups of flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, salt, and orange zest. Add cold butter, and mix on low speed until butter is the size of peas. Combine eggs and heavy cream, and slowly pour into the flour and butter mixture. Mix until just blended. Dough will look lumpy. Combine dried cranberries and 1/4 cup of flour, add to dough, and mix on low speed until blended.

Dump dough onto well-floured surface, and knead into a ball. Flour your hands and a rolling pin, and roll dough 3/4-inch thick. You should see small bits of butter in dough. Keep moving dough on floured board so it doesn't stick. Flour a 3-inch round plain or fluted cutter and cut circles of dough. Place scones on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Collect scraps neatly, roll them out, and cut more circles.

Brush tops of scones with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are browned and the insides are fully baked. Scones will be firm to the touch. Allow scones to cool for 15 minutes, then whisk together confectioner's sugar and orange juice, and drizzle over the scones.


Red Currant Chocolate Brownie Muffins

Courtesy of Michelle Furbacher
of www.michellemayne.com

  • (Makes 6 large and 12 mini muffins)
  • 5 ozs. dark chocolate
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup red currants

Chop chocolate into small pieces. Melt with butter in a saucepan on medium-low heat. Let mixture cool for a couple of minutes, then stir in sugar. Add vanilla then mix in eggs one at a time. Add flour and salt and mix well. Carefully stir in red currants, careful not to crush them.

Pour batter into greased muffin tins and bake at 375°F for about 20 minutes or until done.