By Alison Steele
By the time our July summer vacation rolls around we are firmly rooted in southern water culture. Aunt Ro’s pool becomes the daily bathing ritual for the kids trying to dodge the summer heat, along with the local spring-fed lake hidden at the base of the mountains. Weekend trips to the grandparents promise kayaking, river walking, and visits to Mermaid Rock. Longer excursions to West Virginia lure us into long tube floats starting at the beekeeper’s house and all the way down to the main bridge that leads to Monongahela National Forest where we fill up all our water jugs from the spring still trickling out of the mountain. Preparing the houses, gardens, and animals for our transition to Virginia for the summer seems endless, until we fly over those rolling blue hills. Summertime is here.
While Boulder Creek friends and neighbors have already planted their tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, it’s all I can do to hold back until the last week of May to plant the summer garden, slowing harvest until our return in August. Tucking the beds in with thick layers of rice straw keeps our precious water from evaporating and the weeds in check. Fresh herbs and early summer tea flowers are tied and hung from the massive redwood beam in the kitchen and along the wall pegs of the dining room. I find myself pushing squash seeds into any unused irrigation tap the day before we fly East. It’s no secret that squash and pumpkin leaves help to smother the weeds we won’t be there to pull.
The kids’ fingers are stained with first of the Loganberries, red and white currants, jostaberries, gooseberries, and rhubarb stored in the freezer until we return. Along with any preserved fruit harvest — whether it be dried, frozen, canned, or bottled — comes the pleasure of enjoying the fresh flavors at their peak of ripeness. These recipes for Berry Fools showcase just that. They’re older than the hills and take no time at all to whip up when time is of the essence.
Originally made with gooseberries and clotted cream in England in the 15th century, settlers in Appalachia used wild blackberries or black raspberries and freshly whipped cream from the family cow. I planted a gooseberry bush a few years back just to get an inkling of what the original might have tasted like, but feel free to use whatever delectable berry you can get your hands on. In July, black raspberries and chicory are lining our fences in Virginia, so I whipped up another once we settled in on this side of things.
Black Raspberry Fool with Chicory & Field Mint
4 cups black raspberries
Juice and zest of one lemon
4-6 T sugar
¼ c water
Handful of chicory flowers and field mint
Gooseberry & Elderflower Fool
3 ½ c green gooseberries
Zest of one lemon
4-6 T of caster sugar
8-10 elderflower sprays
¼ c water
Place berries, four tablespoons of sugar, lemon zest, water, and elderflower sprays, if using, into a saucepan. Stir over low heat dissolving the sugar. Simmer on low for 8-10 minutes, just until the berries are soft. Spoon mixture into a sieve and rub through with a wooden spoon. Taste and see if it needs more sugar before adding the rest. I like a tart berry tang against the sweet rich cream.
8 oz whipping cream
4 oz full fat Greek yogurt
1 vanilla bean
1 T sugar or maple syrup
Split the vanilla bean and scrape half into the yogurt. Stir well to distribute the seeds. Add sweetness to the cream and whip to soft peaks. There’s something special about hand whipping cream! Give it a try if you’d like. Combine the yogurt and cream. Gently fold into fruit puree. Spoon into glasses and garnish with berries and botanicals. Refrigerate an hour or two before serving and savor the fresh flavors of summer!
A native of Virginia, Alison Steele lives with her husband, two children, and cat in Boulder Creek where she raises quail, chickens, fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs. Alison plays banjo and sings in Sugar by the Pound.
Photos by Alison Steele