Instead of walking down the street to the market, I step outside and pluck strawberries and blueberries from the vine. I harvest zucchini blossoms, I cut herbs and their flowers, I eat plums ripe from the tree.
The chard starts are strong, the mustard greens will flourish, and we all hope the gophers don't find the baby beets too tempting.
Of course we have to share a little bit, so I watch quietly while the Bluejays swoop down and pluck the yellow raspberries from the patch by the front door with surprising delicacy. They cackle with victory and fly back into the top branches to finish the sweet treat, then fly down again for more.
And sometimes, we are forced to share too much, like when the rabbits sneak into the garden and nibble away at all my carefully coddled kale and broccoli starts.
Still, I'm learning that there is little more satisfying that putting together a meal from your backyard.
Yesterday was a small flashback to me: a dinner with some folks from high school and one of our favorite teachers. A teacher so stellar he took us (a group of ten seniors) all the way to Lousiana, and then the next year to the Baltic states. Just because he could, just because we wanted to.
We were meeting to discuss one of my favorite books, Sometimes a Great Notion, and, like all good meetings, the meeting surrounded food.
In between discussing how much acid Ken Kesey was probably taking when he wrote the bizarrely structured prose, there was homemade tapenade, fresh pasta with herbs and garden zucchini, plenty of green salad, and the first corn from a friend's garden. Finally, there was the blackberry clafoutis.
I can never get enough of these blackberries. The same fruit was used to make the jam, and also innumerable pies over the past years. Tasting them, you can taste the heat, you can taste the wild, and you can taste the pure, unfettered abandon with which they grow on the sunny ridge above our house. No one takes care of them, no one pampers them, and they flourish.
Better than any other berries I've had, I still hesitate to say they taste like summer - but really, that's exactly it. I eat them, and I realize with a satisfied sigh, it's here. Summer that is. Even if it's verging on the middle of August, it's the thick of the season, the time to savor, the time to overheat and enjoy the hell out of it before the rains begin again.
For this family, it's always jam or pie. Usually pie. And a great pie it is: flaky and buttery crust, a filling just barely sweetened and oozing juices through thin slits along the carved top crust. But this year, I wanted to try something different.
Maybe it was having Louma here, and thinking about my times in France. Maybe it was remembering the last French exchange student who came to stay a few years ago, who claimed she couldn't cook and the next day whipped out a fabulous fruit and egg custard.
Whatever it was, I wanted to tackle a clafoutis.
Really it's only a simple custard: flour, sugar, eggs, and milk. Whisked together, poured over piles of fresh berries, and then baked until golden and puffy, the custard rises like a soufflé and then sinks into itself as a bed for the blackberries. Cooled until dense and then cut into thick slices, the berries take in just enough heat to release their juices and yet retain that fresh, just-picked quality that sets them apart from anything found in a store.
The great thing about blackberries at the height of summer? Even if the birds eat all they can handle, there are still plenty left for the rest of us.
2 cups berries (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, or a combination)
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup flour
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 inch pyrex dish, round or square. Spread fruit evenly in dish.
2) Whisk eggs and sugar together until light in color, about a minute. Whisk in milk, vanilla, and salt. Whisk in flour, thoroughly removing lumps, then pour gently over fruit.
3) Bake until golden and puffed and the middle has just set, about 45 minutes. Let cool (at least mostly), before serving.