A LITTLE SUMMER SOMETHING
The rattle of cars across the cobblestones below floats through the windows on the breeze like the distant roar of ocean waves. The shade washes over me, soothing, cooling, the shutters pulled closed against the searing heat. Voices on the street mingle with the distant laughter of teens now out of school and summertime is finally upon us. Summer sneaks up on us in Nantes, plays tag with our emotions, one day cool one day blazing, rain hot on the heels of blue skies filled with lazy white clouds. Today the sun beckons, luring us out for a stroll, whetting our thirst for an ice cream, a refreshing tuna tartare, inviting us to pull up a chair at any one of the innumerable sidewalk terraces and order up one of the bright red, green or golden brews and lose ourselves in the surrounding holiday chatter.
The heat of a Florida summer always came early, riding in on a burning wind and settling down to stay. From winter chill to hot and humid seemingly overnight, the relentless summer sun gave us no escape whether in or out of the shade, no respite save for the flash thunderstorms every afternoon at 4 sharp. April, May, June, we braced ourselves for the long wait until the end of the school day, end of the school year, patiently listening for the alarm to sound three as we fidgeted at our desks, trying to concentrate as the temperature rose with the sun, and finally bursting out of our seats, through the doors and grabbing our bikes for that last ride home on that final day of the school year. Summer afternoons were spent playing ball in the street, gossiping with girlfriends as we circled and circled the block for hours. Barefoot on the steaming pavement, games of hopscotch or tossing basketballs through hoops could amuse us for hours. Occasionally one or the other of us would dash into the house for a glass of chilled Kool-aid or a popsicle from the freezer, our only arm against the blistering heat. These days, I only taste the heat of a Florida summer for a mere three or four weeks on those rare occasions when I can fly back home, and all of those tiny pleasures flood through my mind and rush back up to the surface. I walk out of the airport into the unrelenting heat and I am already craving a popsicle, cherry please, a dish of ice cream or a cold glass of juice.
I vaguely remember a 4th of July here or there, dad taking us out to Wickham Park where we could pay ball or jump into the lake while waiting to eat. Or tossing hamburgers on the grill set up on the driveway in front of the house, loading down our plates with store-bought cole slaw and potato salad. Or up in Albany at cousin Sandra’s tasting my first clams, chewy and strange but so intriguing, all the better for being dipped in hot, salty melted butter. Then chocolate popsicles in the yard, playing hard with a houseful of cousins waiting for the night to fall. Lighting sparklers wherever we were, fascinated by the dancing flame, silvery and bright, biting our skin, our cheeks, even better than the sky full of fireworks. Or standing on the lawn while dad, and later Andrew, shot off Roman candles, missiles, spinners and parachutes down at the end of the driveway to the delight of us (and later our) kids as we swatted away Florida’s inevitable mosquitoes. Watermelon, always icy cold watermelon, all summer long, bought at one of those ramshackle wooden stands lining the highway and set up in every gas station parking lot then shoved into the refrigerator to chill. Huge Florida watermelons sliced open with the biggest knife, the slices plopped onto paper plates to eat outside, their weight too much for the flimsy cardboard, each rosy slice threatening to drop onto the ground before we could make it outside. And those spitting contests, who could spit the tiny black seeds the farthest? And would we find a tiny sprout of a plant pushing up through the dirt next spring?
The 4th of July slips by unnoticed now, relegated to the rare trip home to the States and my family, consigned to memories of my youth. The 14th of July, the French national holiday, goes much the same way. Caught between two worlds, neither makes much sense to me. Two nationalities, two religions, sons a bundle of cultures, we often feel no allegiance at all, or too many. We’ve created our own little nation between the four of us, our own homeland, or none at all. Nomads, we have never felt an attachment so strong that we would not hesitate to pick up and wander off to a new land to discover a new world, add one more culture to our closet. So all those holidays, the Independence Days and Thanksgivings, the Christmases and Hanukkahs that come and go, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, as we watch our friends prepare and celebrate with food and good cheer, we snuggle up on the sofa in front of a good movie and dinner for two or four or take a picnic lunch and the dog for a romp in the vineyards, we cook together or pop open the oysters, we clink glasses of chilled white wine and give a hearty hurrah to us and everything we have. We celebrate our life and our time together, as strange and a tad selfish as it may sound.
Far from family and friends, there is no joy in the backyard barbecue, no sparklers, no parades. We create our own holidays and eventful celebrations just as we please. Each vacation spent with family, whether special occasion or not, each get together with far-away friends is a cause for festivities. The feast is spread, the champagne popped, no need for this date or that to enjoy what we have and give thanks. It’s all there, right in front of our eyes.
Cherries are out in full force, deep ruby red, plump and luscious. Rhubarb has hung around the marketplace long enough to woo the lovely cherry sitting coyly over at the other end and together they make a blissful, tempting, bewitching pair. What is summer without this match made in heaven? Rhubarb’s tangy intensity tamed by Cherry’s sweet perfume, cooked to tender perfection under a delicate cloud of dough. I made Dorie Greenspan’s Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler (with only slight changes) because I couldn’t help myself, because it was just what summer called for!
CHERRY RHUBARB COBBLER
From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours
For the filling:
1 pound red cherries, pitted and halved
12 ounces (3 – 4 fat stalks) rhubarb, trimmed, peeled and cut into ½-inch slices
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbs cornstarch
1 tsp ground cinnamon
For the cobbler dough:
¾ cup flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
3 Tbs packed light brown sugar
2 tsps baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
6 Tbs (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cubed
½ cup whole milk (I had none so used half heavy cream and half low fat milk)
1 – 2 Tbs cinnamon sugar for sprinkling over the dough, optional
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Butter an 8-inch square baking dish.
Prepare the filling:
Mix the prepared cherries and rhubarb together in a large bowl. Sift the cornstarch over the sugar and cinnamon and stir to combine. Sprinkle over the fruit and toss until the dry ingredients are evenly coating the fruit. Toss the fruit often while you prepare the cobbler dough.
Prepare the cobbler dough:
Put both flours, the brown sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl (Dorie uses a food processor). Stir or whisk to blend. Add the cubes of butter and, using only your fingertips, quickly rub the butter into the dry ingredients until incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse meal or wet sand. Working very quickly, add the milk and stir with a spoon or fork until well incorporated and you have a smooth, thick batter (Dorie makes a dough but mine made a thick batter which worked perfectly). The dough should be light and fluffy, so don’t overwork.
Pour the prepared fruit into the buttered baking dish. Using a tablespoon, place equal-sized heaping tablespoons of dough in rows on top of the fruit – I got 4 rows of 4 balls of dough. If you like, sprinkle large pinches of cinnamon sugar over the dough.
Bake for 35 – 45 minutes until the cobbler dough is puffed up and golden and baked through. The fruit should have created a thick juice which will be bubbling up around the puffs of dough when it is done.
Remove from the oven and serve hot, at room temperature or even chilled. With ice cream or whipped cream, of course.
This recipe is slightly different than my Cobbler recipe I usually use (which I will be making shortly – and posting for a comparison) and although Dorie’s Cobbler was delicious, I found the dough was a bit too imposing, not allowing for the full fruit flavor to shine through which, after all, is the purpose of a fruit cobbler! I suggest using all white flour if you prefer a more neutral-tasting biscuit topping.