Gooseberries and elderflower. It is all about them these days. Everywhere you see recipes for pavlovas, fools, cakes, pies, tarts, and crumbles filled with sour, greenish berries and sweetened with flowery syrup. Indeed, I found some gooseberries at the farmers’ market here in Wimbledon the other day, and couldn’t resist buying some. Then, back at home, I made clafoutis – a favourite dessert that loves berries in every form, even if they are tart gooseberries.
Our tiny freezer is already full of blackberries, and more are ripening on the bushes along the park. Every free half day we have is dedicated to the collection of the new, juicy berries, too perfect, too tempting to be left there. We linger to savor the different flavors, sometimes as sweet as honey, others more sweet and sour, of each and every berry – each unique and different. Here is the satisfaction of gathering them: every bite is a surprise. No store-bought blackberries can surprise us anymore, but these wild ones can. And we just can’t get enough of them. We are eating them in all ways – fresh and naked as a snack, in our morning muesli, with yogurt, and now, also with cake.
After pairing strawberries with polenta
, and raspberries with almond
, I did blackberries and coconut. The exotic butteriness of the coconut embraces and enhances the tart sweetness of blackberries without taking our anything from their freshness. The delightful crumbly and moist texture will make you want to catch the crumbles left on the plate with the tip of your finger. The buttery topping is a gift, a small treat, giving to this cake an “end-of-summer” touch.
Italians love preserving summer fruits and storing them for the winter months: from fruit and vegetable jellies, jams and compotes to tomato canning; from pickling to drying and salting, the food history of the peninsula is studded with recipes to store and maintain food and to make it available all year around.
My grandma, age 92, is no exception. As far as I remember, she has always made preserves in the summertime, with the vegetables from her own garden. It is simply something she does without asking herself any questions: the abundance of food spurs her to make conserve (preserves, in Italian). She has always been more about the vegetable than the fruit ones, so home-made jams weren’t really part of our traditions as much as tomato sauce and other vegetable preserves.
My absolute favourite is her salsa di melanzane (aubergine sauce) – a mix of aubergine, green bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes, stewed together in some oil at very low heat for a while until all the vegetables fall apart and a creamy, chunky sauce is formed.
Free Saturdays in our home often include the following: French Toast or pancakes with juice for breakfast; catching up on the latest news; and going to the weekly farmers market. One of the things I like the most about living in the UK is the wealth of berries I find in the summer. Berries, forged or cultivated, cover the market stalls with their vibrant colours. I love them all, indistinctly, and I can’t help spending a small fortune on them every time we cross paths. Jewels are far less precious before my eyes.
Free Saturdays often include spending an hour or two in the kitchen, too, particularly if we got hold of some ripe seasonal fruits. In the case of berries, I find the temptation of settling them into a crumbly, sweet frame hard to resist. This time around, we made scones. We have been craving them for a while, and the right occasion had finally come –we had all we needed to make them the way we love them: slightly sweet but mostly tart, with a soft crumb full of crunchy bits.
Before leaving London for Venice, I had been corresponding with my mum about the season and the weather in Italy. Heat and humidity would welcome us, she told me, but also a lot of summer fruit and vegetables. I couldn’t wait to bite the first tomato, a crunchy cucumber, some deeply flavorful bell peppers. “The raspberry bush is going crazy, here. I collect some berries every day, and I’m saving them in the freezer for when you come.”
It was, indeed, very hot. To get some solace, we had to stay all day on the shore, enjoying the only breeze we could find in miles, the one which blows from the sea. It felt like heaven like it should have been – a hot, sticky, humid, salty and sandy summer. The way it has always been, the way I would like it to be. This is a note to my future self.
A summer storm surprised us one morning, forcing us inside for a few hours. We thought to bake some cake for the following breakfasts and went to the garden to pick some herbs to see how to work them into a berry cake. Basil and raspberry is a combination I was curious about, and so I thought I’d give it a try. It turned out to be unique, striking yet delicate and light. A touch of flaky sea salt, an idea that I took from Heidi
, gave this cake a further depth of flavour, and an elegant, final touch.