A Syrup to Hail Summer…and the Strawberry Fields!

June 25, 2007 at 11:00 PM (dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, Inedible pleasures, sights, strawberries, sugars-sweets, syrups, USA, vegetables/ fruits)

…Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out, it doesn’t matter much to me
Let me take you down, ‘cos I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real, and nothing to get hungabout
Strawberry Fields forever…

-The Beatles

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    Summer has now officially begun- astronomically speaking- for those in the northern hemisphere: we have just passed through the longest day of the year, when the north pole is most oriented toward the sun. On the eve of the 23rd of June, the Midsummer’s Eve festivals of nearby Door County, in tandem with the lands of Scandinavia, kick off the night with bonfires, grilled food, and plenty of alcoholic drinks to wash it all down. The merry-making continues again on the 24th- Midsummer’s Day. I have never attended these myself, but I’ve heard tales…and I imagine that, since these two dates fell across the weekend this year, this pagan holiday dating from pre-christian times was especially riotous…

    But I celebrated in my own way: on Saturday I went strawberry-picking, with a good friend and my mother, at a local “pick-your-own” strawberry farm. (We also scavenged their nearby asparagus-field for any last remaining stalks. I know we’ve heard enough about that vegetable, but it is so much better than what is available in the supermarkets, and it’s season is so short…so, those without access, please forgive my enthusiasm)

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The field director… a nice woman who keeps track of the picked rows with a flag-system.

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Diligent strawberry-enthusiasts at work…

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The plant flowers and produces the berries right next to the ground; straw keeps the berries from touching the damp soil and decomposing, which they do quite quickly after reaching their prime. (Wild strawberries also grow in Wisconsin, and though more difficult to pick, I have had the pleasure…)

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Only that darker-red one in the center would be picked now- though it would best after another day or two on the plant; the remainder ripen one-by-one; therefore the flag-system keeps a rotation going until the season ends…

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Our final cache about to be tallied by one of the sons: just under 25 lbs. Enough to have a few now and the rest preserved for special treats throughout the coming year…

    I admit, though, that I am quite fond of strawberries, as if you hadn’t guessed… and to kneel on the ground to search the plants for the low-growing fruit, is small consequence for the reward: beautifully ripe, sweet berries with just a hint of tartness left in them at their peak. Already there are plans for jam and strawberry short-cake, but, this year, I’d like to try something new with a few of them: a strawberry syrup with which to make cool sodas for the hot days ahead, to drizzle over ice-cream, pancakes or waffles…or to flavour coffee drinks or even hot cocoa when cool nights eventually return.  And I suppose alcoholic refreshments could be [clears throat] uh…concocted with it as well…

So, that’s what I did…

Strawberry Syrup

(with by-products of seedy pulp and a thick puree)

5 C fresh strawberry puree (rinse well, remove calyx, puree in a blender or food-processor or pass through a coarse sieve)

2 C water

1 3/4 C sugar (more if you like it sweeter; I don’t)

pinch of salt

pinch of citric acid

1)Place the puree, water and sugar in a saucepan and, over low heat, slowly bring to boil. Stir, lower heat and maintain a gentle simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat, cover and allow to cool until warm.

2)Pass this mixture through a fine wire sieve into another pan; this will remove the seeds and some of the pulp: you will have about 1/2 C of fiber-rich, sweet solids remaining in the sieve. This can be chilled and eaten by small spoonfuls…I thought of making a halvah with sooji rava, but… I didn’t.

3)Now, take the strained mixture and return it to the stove; again, bring it slowly to a boil, then remove from heat. Pour this hot mixture through a triple-layer of cheesecloth (I lined a large colander with the cheesecloth set over another pan). Allow this to drip through for about 4 hours. Give the contents in the upper chamber a stir and allow it to drip for another hour. At this point you should have about 1 1/2 C of thick puree that will no longer offer any liquid. This seedless, thick puree can be used for flavouring a cheesecake, making strawberry ice-cream, used as a dessert-sauce, halvah-making, etc… (I promptly froze it)

4)To the potent syrup now twice-filtered- you should have a little over 4 C- add the salt and citric acid. Store in the refrigerator.

5)To compose a strawberry soda, place a small amount in a glass; fill with carbonated water and ice-cubes.  How shall I compare thee to a summer’s day!

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I’d like to thank these two lovely people for such a nice time… 🙂 ; behind them is the over-blown asparagus-field that we attacked next! We found enough for a few last dishes of the season- then it’s farewell to the beloved spears until next spring…

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A Syrup of Spring Mist

March 28, 2007 at 1:06 PM (dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, fusion, sugars-sweets, syrups, various citrus fruit)

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I thought I’d make up something light, cooling and refreshing for those of you who are experiencing warm weather already, or will soon enough. Here? Well, yesterday it was 75 F(24 C), today is another story….it’s 42 F(6 C) as I write. Wisconsin is like that…

A friend and I took a Sunday drive a few days ago- on Sunday in fact! It was one of those days that charm me to leave the city. A light mist was in the air, and, as you might know, that this can cause the familiar to suddenly look serene, a bit eerie, and well….unfamiliar. It occurred to me that the fog would be thicker- and hence, more dramatic- near the “big pond”: Lake Michigan. Having lived on the lakeshore for nearly three years taught me, at the least, these three things: 1.humid days bring foggy nights and mornings, so plan to go slow if you plan on going anywhere. 2. there are a lot of sand-polished stones, driftwood, and other odd finds on the beach, and 3. some of the best food to be had is in tiny towns situated at the crossings of winding back roads you never knew existed.

One such town is called Slovan. It literally is in the middle of nowhere, yet the town has for decades been well-known, from the Devil’s Door down to Two Rivers, and west to certain knowing residents around Green Bay. Its main attraction is a supper club which, besides serving great traditional local food, hosts spirited polka dances with live bands during the summer, and a good-sized dance hall built just for it. As they regularly have a famous Sunday brunch, I decided to call up a friend of mine, who I knew had been itching to go and sample their offerings…

So off we went, leisurely coasting along rural roads through the thickening mist, up and down rolling hills, gazing out at the shimmering air, at the the forests and farmland that vanished into grey in the distance, all of this lit by a silver sun shining in the eastern sky. A cow here and there appeared out of nowhere at the side of the road and disappeared just as quickly. But no time to stop and talk this morning. On and on we went.

When we arrived and pulled crunchily into the gravel-covered parking lot, I noticed at the far end, near a few scant trees, two cats: one black and one grey-striped, lolling about together at the far side of the lot. They seemed to be very happy about something. With my brow furrowed by curiosity, I parked the car and stepped out into the hazy sunlight, my friend lazily following. We stretched just a bit, closing the car-doors quietly. I checked my pockets out of habit for my wallet and keys and peered over at the cats. Their tails twitched contentedly, but they had not yet taken the slightest notice of us out-of-towners. I took a step toward them, then another, one foot slowly following the other. Crunch……. crunch….. crunch…….. cru… both cats suddenly turned toward me in unison, eyes bright, unblinking and inquisitive. I halted, and motioned for my friend to do the same. I blinked a “hello” to them, and bent down on my knees to beckon them over.  With little hesitation they strolled over, sniffed my outstretched hand and gaily “marked” me with grins and whiskered cheeks. Obviously they had frequent human contact. They soon thought my friend was acceptable interactive material too….and after a few minutes of this giddy welcoming party, we figured out what the source of their joy was. They were one of each gender, and in deepest love with each other, gliding against each other across the gravel, circling, inseparable as they moved. We had a hard time breaking away from our new, amorous friends, but the mist was clearing in the strengthening sunlight, and we had a few dishes to investigate.

A Syrup of Spring Mist

2 C fresh-squeezed lime juice

the zest(green part only) of 6 limes or 1/4 C, whichever comes first

1 1/2 C white sugar, more or less, to taste

a 1″ piece of ginger, peeled and very thinly sliced

2 sprigs of spearmint, washed and bruised by squeezing gently

6 very thin slices of green chile

18 whole white peppercorns

a pinch of salt

a pinch of citric acid/sour salt

1)Place everything but the mint in a small pan and slowly bring to boil. Remove from heat and toss in mint. Cover pan with a lid and allow to stand until cool.

2)Strain through a fine sieve and store in the refrigerator.

This can be:

1.mixed with carbonated water in ratio of about 1:5 for a refreshing lime soda,

2.mixed with tequila and triple sec(or other orange liqueur) and served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass for Margaritas,(2 parts tequila, 1 part lime syrup, 1 part triple sec)

3. mixed with an equal part of rum, diluted to taste with water and ice and finished with a dash of nutmeg for planter’s punch, or

4. diluted with plain ice water and served with shaved or crushed ice for Turkish-style sherbet.

It occurred to me much later, as we headed back home in the now bright sun, windows open,  fresh and scented air streaming through the car, how Brahma indeed is manifested strongly in these days of erratic weather and awakening life. Those two friendly felines will probably have a new family to raise by the end of spring…it might be worth going back in two months to find out.

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