The Teacup Chronicles

Category: snacks

Strawberry days

If the first heady days of summertime had a flavor, they most certainly would taste of strawberry. Not just any strawberry mind you, but the perfect strawberry – a ripe little gem picked straight from the plant with the sunshine pouring down on your shoulders and your fingers stained crimson, the far away humming of bees and the heat and the boozy sweet perfume of squashed berries weaving an intoxicating spell around you. When you bite into a strawberry like that – you know that summertime has begun, beyond a doubt. You can feel it.  You have crossed that strange boundary where spring’s sweetness begins to totter into something altogether more complex and provocative and interesting, like the maturing of a fine wine. Summertime.

There is no comparison between that sort of strawberry and the ones you find at the store. True strawberries are not made for supermarkets shelves – they are made to eat quickly and greedily and fervidly before they melt into a boozy mush. A good strawberry won’t last more than a few days. I always forget this in the spring, when the first cartons of California and Florida berries begin appearing and I bring them home, tantalized by the prospect of them. But they always disappoint. They are strawberries made for utility and resilience, not for flavor. They taste like nothing.

So when strawberry season begins, I take full advantage. I pick until my husband has to drag me away. I freeze them. I make jam. I eat more strawberries in a day than anyone rightfully should. I put them in muffins, slice them over my cereal, macerate them in sugar, blend them into smoothies. I had to make this and this of course, and strawberry shortcake, and this. And who could resist that? I eat them until I begin to almost sicken of them – almost – which is about when the season is whittling down anyways. Because I know deep down that this is my one chance in the year to really experience the sensation of summer melting into my tongue. The chance to eat a strawberry that tastes like a strawberry, and to make the world stop and fill my head with sunshine and blue skies and days that never seem to end.

Here is a recipe that I felt brought out the strawberry’s full potential in a simple, elegant way. It combines two of my favorite fruits – strawberries and peaches – with a warm, sophisticated drizzle of balsamic and a beautiful scattering of fresh rose petals that just combines everything good about this time of year. I hope you enjoy it – strawberry season is beginning to wind down, so do be sure to properly gorge yourself this next week, and enjoy the sweet taste of summer before it all to soon begins to slip away.

A salad of strawberries, peaches and rose petals with warm vanilla-rose balsamic syrup

A simple and elegant desert to enjoy as is, or spoon over something delicious like ice-cream. You can use wild or cultivated roses from your garden for this – I happen to have the most beautiful little rugosa rose bush that I discovered hiding in the weeds last summer, so I used the bright fuschia petals of that, which are lightly fragranced and beautifully stunning scattered over the fruit. You might wish to double the syrup amount to have on hand for other things – sweet and fragrant with a touch of warmth from the pepper – it makes a wonderful topping for ice-cream, even pancakes. If you don’t have a vanilla bean handy just add a tablespoon of vanilla extract to the dressing

Serves 2.

  • 2 perfectly ripe peaches, sliced into thin segments
  • 1.5 cups strawberries, sliced into thin segments
  • the petals of one rose

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 cup aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon unrefined cane sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 teaspoon rose water
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the balsamic vinegar and sugar into a saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean in half, scrape the seeds from the pod and add them to the pan, and then add the pod itself. Turn on the heat and bring to a boil, letting the syrup concentrate and reduce, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by half. Remove from heat and let cool slightly before removing the vanilla pod and adding the teaspoon of rose water.

While the syrup is cooling, arrange the sliced fruit onto two plates however you like.

Drizzle the syrup generously over the fruit, and then finish with a sprinkling of rose petals.

Minty Pea Pesto

There are so many things to love about June.

There are the long days of bright sunshine to spend laying in a hammock with a book or swimming in a lake or taking long meandering walks. There are the warm rains that make everything smell fresh and the passing thunderstorms to watch from the porch when the rain comes down in torrents.

There are the evenings that seem to stretch on forever, sitting outside with a glass of wine watching the twilight settle down. There are the fireflies at dusk.

There  is the perfume of a thousand different flowers carried on the breeze. There are irises and roses to admire, elder flowers to simmer in pots full of lemon and lime zest for elderflower cordial. Peonies to place in old glass mason jars and set on the table.

There are strawberries – juicy and crimson through and through – and rhubarb that is fragrant and tart and lovely. There are tender young lettuces and spicy radishes to crunch into, peas so sweet you could eat them by the handful.

There are friends who come to visit and friends to go and see.

There is the scent of cut grass and the hum of lawnmowers in the distance. There is riding in the car with all the windows down. Cold glasses of lemonade that taste so amazingly good and summer dresses that are cool and airy and make one feel pretty.

And there are the meals eaten outside – the picnics, the backyard barbecues, the lunches in the leafy shade and the late late dinners on the porch when the sun is going down and the fireflies and starting to twinkle. I would eat every meal out-of-doors this month if I could. Everything tastes better when it is eaten under open sky with the wind in your hair and the birds singing all around you. It really does.

Because I love the opportunity to bask in the gentleness of June as often and as long as I can, I try to make meals that are light and fresh,  intended to be eaten slowly, nonchalantly, lazily – designed more as an accompaniment to being outdoors than as the sole purpose.  I put out bowls of salad from the garden and let people make their own.  I make pesto with all of the wonderful herbs coming up in the garden to slather on crusty pieces of bread with fat slices of mozzarella or fresh tart goats cheese to crumble. Bowls of fresh strawberries with lightly whipped cream for dipping them in. All the sorts of things that taste exactly of June.

This is a pesto I made the other day using fresh peas – sweet and tender and wonderful – and mint from the garden. It is refreshing and light and just the thing for a warm and hazy day that requires something light. I served it with my favorite oatcakes baked into wedges, fresh mesclun greens from the garden and a handful of hot peppery radishes.

Minty Pea Pesto

Serves 4

  • 2.5 pounds peas in their pods – or about 1 pound freshly shelled peas  (you can use frozen in a pinch, but it won’t be nearly as good!)
  • 1 small bunch of fresh mint, leaves removed from stems
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry pan
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 3-4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces finely grated Parmesan (optional)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • a good pinch each of salt and black pepper

Place the peas, pinenuts, garlic and mint leaves into a food processor with a pinch of salt and about half the olive oil. Pulse until the peas are broken up but still have some chunk and texture to them. Add the cheese, lemon juice, another pinch of salt and black pepper and pulse again, drizzling in more olive oil as needed until you have the consistency you want – it should be about the consistency of a thick hummus, with slightly more texture to it.

Check for salt and pepper and acidity, adding more of each as you see fit.

Serve with toasted crusty bread, oat cakes or a crisp, hearty cracker. Torn fresh mozzarella would be a good addition, along with a nice fresh salad – to make this more of a meal.

Japanese style pickled burdock

In the past several years, I have become addicted to preserving things. I can’t seem to help myself. The thought of all those little jars full of goodness accumulating in my pantry  fills me with the warmest feelings of happiness and contentment. It’s like having money in the bank, those jars. Things to look forward too. I find myself mapping out the year in what preserves I will make – rhubarb jam in May, Strawberry in June, bread and butter pickles in July.  I have an endless list.

And I’ll tell you, that deep down, what I’m really drawn to about the whole thing is the idea that somehow, I can capture time in a jar. Does that sound mad? I believe it though. There is more than just strawberries in my jam. There is June sunshine, long lazy days of blue skies, lightning bugs and warm muggy afternoons when the thunderheads roll through. All of that is in there too.  When you preserve something,  you also  preserve a little bit of time, a memory, a thousand sensations. And then you open it up months later and all that is there to taste. June sunshine on a dull February afternoon. It’s a thought that makes me happy.

I was making my spring list of things to pickle, jam and capture in jars, when my good friend Iris called. Iris is one of those truly remarkable people that seem never to be phased by anything. While I am panicking and worrying and over-reacting to just about everything that is ridiculous and unimportant , she goes about in her gentle and easy way, handling the most horrendous of happenings as though they were nothing at all.  This is saying something too, as she is a single mother and the owner of her own herbal products company, which she runs single-handedly.  A remarkable person, as I said. Just being in her presence makes one calm, as though the world has just slowed down a few paces and grown far less complicated than it was before.

Anyhow, Iris called me up to ask me if I might like to collaborate with her again on her seasonal herb share program. We did one back in the winter – packed with elderberry syrup, echinacea, immune soups and the like – which turned out quite a success. So she wanted to keep going with a spring theme this time. I want you to make something that falls more into the food category she said (doesn’t she know me well?). Maybe something with spring greens, or something rooty. It just has to be shelf-stable. 

Well, it didn’t take long for me to pick. Burdock pickles. I make them every year in early spring, and they, along with all my other favorite must have jams and pickles, are an important marker in the succession of the year. There is burdock pickle time just as there is tomato sauce time and canned peaches time. It’s a time of shoots rising, leaves unfurling, damp earthy soil and roots to be dug.

Burdock, to give you a little background,   is a common garden and wayside weed with remarkable medicinal qualities. Herbalists like to call it a “tonic” because it does just that – gently tonifies and strengthens the body, from the digestive tract and liver to the immune system and lymphatics, when used over a period of time. For this reason, I love to consume a little burdock each day at the change of the seasons (spring and fall) to support my body as it adapts to the seasonal transition. In Japan it is touted not just for its medicinal benefit, but as a delicious food as well – a crisp, nutty root with a distinctive sweet flavor that can only be described as burdock. These pickles are my favorite way to get my daily burdock dosage and savor its delicious and unique flavor.

So burdock pickles it was. I headed out with my shovel for an afternoon of root digging, root scrubbing, root chopping and root pickling that ended in a half a dozen glittering glass jars packed with burdock roots, ginger, chile and garlic. Four of them went off with Iris for the  spring herb shares (and to be sold at the Montpelier farmer’s market this Saturday – look for the Grian Herbs booth) and two of them have joined the many other jars of deliciousness in my pantry. And of course, burdock isn’t all you’ll find in those jars.  The damp earthiness in the air, the feelings of mud between your fingers, the unfolding of leaves, the rising up of shoots. It’s all there too. You just have to open it up and taste it.

Pickled Burdock Root

You can also find burdock (or Gobo) in Asian markets or well stocked grocery stores, if you haven’t the chance to go dig some up yourself.

  • 4-5 medium-sized burdock roots
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • a two-inch piece of ginger, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 red chili sliced thinly (or 1 – 2 tsp red chili flakes)
  •  apple cider vinegar
  •  tamari
  •  sake

Scrub the roots well to remove any dirt and then peel away the rough outer skin. On larger roots, the outer layer can simply be peeled away by hand though on smaller roots you will need to use a vegetable peeler.

Cut the roots into 1 inch long segments, and then julienne them into matchstick size strips. Alternately, you can slice the roots into thin rounds, about 1/8 inch thick if you prefer a larger sized pickle.

Place your prepared burdock into a pan and just cover with water. Bring the water to a boil for 2-3 minutes (just enough to soften the roots slightly) and then remove from heat. Remove the roots using a slotted spoon and place them in a clean bowl, reserving your cooking liquid.

Add the ginger, garlic and chili to the burdock and mix well. Then divide this mixture into 2 or 3 sterilized pint size mason jars, filling them to about an inch from the top. In each jar, you will fill 1/4 of the volume with apple cider vinegar, 1/4 with tamari, 1/4 with the burdock cooking liquid and 1/4 with sake. Cap tightly. At this point you can refrigerate until ready to use, or place them in a pressure cooker or water bath to seal and make them shelf-stable.