Category Archives: fruit desserts

Tart Art: Recipes for Sweet or Savory Rustic Tarts

DSC_0626I’ve been looking for a great excuse to repost this blog on rustic tarts. Well, it being the eve of you-know-what, I don’t thing I even have to mention why you might want to totally distract yourself with an incredibly delicious cooking project. (Perhaps you don’t have a TV or the internet in your kitchen.) But even if you don’t feel like cooking today or tomorrow, chances are that either a sweet or savory tart might fit perfectly into one of your holiday menus. So, Ta da! A repost of where to find directions to all my yummy rustic tart recipes.


Sweet or savory, these open-faced pies can be everything from appetizer to dessert—and even breakfast. A couple years back, I wrote and photographed a story called “Tart Art” for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, and now the recipes are all online. It’s a great place to go for my all-purpose, buttery, flaky dough recipe—and to find recipes for both my versatile fruit filling (apples, pears, or plums) and for two different savory fillings.


The fruit fillings work for sweet rustic tarts that are as delicious for dessert as they are the next day for brunch or an easy leftover breakfast. And if you’ve got a copy of Fresh from the Farm on hand, you can find one of my favorite variations in the recipe for Little Pear Crostatas with Hazelnut Crisp Topping. (Rustic tarts go by the name crostata in Italy and galette in France.)


The savory fillings I did for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine—Savory Cabbage, Apple & Cheddar and Savory Roasted Butternut, Pear, and Cranberry—are variations on the fillings I did for my tart chapter in The Fresh and Green Table. Not only are these savory tarts deeply flavored and satisfying (great with soup or salad), but they are a lot of fun to put together.


For step by step assembling instructions, you’ll want to look back at the directions and the photos I included in a previous blog, which includes a link to one of the recipes from The Fresh & Green Table. (The Seven Treasure Roasted Winter Veggie Tart is also a favorite in The Fresh & Green Table.) And over on the Martha’s Vineyard Magazine website, you’ll see that I’ve given you options for dividing the dough into either two or four pieces to make two bigger or four smaller tarts.

So you’ve got options.

And when summer comes around (we can be hopeful, right?) don’t forget about my most favorite tart of all—the Roasted Tomato Rustic Tart in Fresh from the Farm!




Kitchen Travel: From Point A to Point B = Pumpkin Hand-Pies

photo-231Sometimes, in my efforts to use up food, I never know what I’m going to wind up with in the kitchen. This week, among far too many things I’d amassed in the fridge, a container of roasted squash was staring at me from behind a bag of kale. I have no idea what I’d been planning to do with it when I pulled it out of the freezer. Maybe make my Spiced Butternut and Cranberry Quick Bread from Fresh From the Farm? Usually I wait until closer to Christmas time to do that. And I know it wasn’t one of many different butternut soups I make. (Though soup is the main reason I roast and freeze winter squash “meat.”)

Puzzled, I returned to my computer, where I happened across an email from Food 52 with a “Genious Pumpkin Butter” recipe in it. I’m not really a fruit butter kind of gal, but I clicked on this because I loved the photo and the deep color of the pumpkin butter. When I got there, I realized why it looked so appealing. In a word (one of my favorite words): Caramelization. The pumpkin (or squash) is basically roasted twice, first to get the flesh tender and scoopable (and out of the skin); second with brown sugar, spices, and a little butter in a shallow baking pan so there is lots of contact with direct heat. You stir the squash mixture from time to time as it bakes and releases a lot of moisture, making it drier, much more flavorful, and deeply colored.

I’d already done the first part—check. So I measured the roasted squash I had (3 cups) and set about to make this right away. (I cut the recipe in half  and used a 7 x 11 Pyrex baking dish.) The house began to smell holiday-fragrant, and stirring the squash every once in a while was one of those comforting and tactile pleasures that make cooking so satisfying.


I ate some right out of the pan not long after it came out of the oven–delicious. Like pumpkin pie filling only much tastier and more concentrated. Which reminded me, of course, that I now had to do something with the squash butter (thinking Roy was really not going to be interested in squash butter crostini for dinner.) So once again, fate (and web surfing) intervened, and as I was perusing The New York Times thanksgiving coverage, I came upon Melissa Clark’s simple pie dough recipe. I had just seen a recipe for cranberry hand pies on another site, and suddenly I knew what I wanted to do—make mini pumpkin (or squash) hand-pies.

After making and chilling Melissa’s easy dough, I promptly stopped looking at anyone else’s recipes, which might have been a mistake, because I haven’t made hand-pies in centuries. But I was already having so much fun with my old pastry cutters, flour flying all over the place.

photo-237 photo-235So only after I had already cut out circles that were rather small, cut little windows out of them, and spooned a heaping portion of roasted squash on to them, did I realize that folding one half of this circle of dough on to itself (to make a half-moon shape) was going to be a stretch and a squish. I should have made bigger circles and smaller cut-outs. Whatever, I said! And forged ahead again, baking them anyway, and then going on to use the rest of the dough to make full-circle hand-pies that held the filling more demurely. (The half moons were cuter, though, even if they were a bit stuffed.)

But wait! Half way through I also stopped and folded a couple tablespoons of mascarpone cheese into the pumpkin butter and tried that as a more “pie-ish” filling. The first one of those I tasted I loved and promptly filled the rest of the dough with that stuff. Later, after everything cooled–and more sampling ensued–I decided that I actually liked the straight roasted squash butter filling better. The crust was so flaky and buttery that it didn’t need a creamier filling.


Well, in the end these things were very cute and very tasty. But of course I can’t give you a full recipe, because I was playing, rather than developing! But if you’re intrigued (and the little pies would be great on a Thanksgiving dessert buffet—they don’t even need to be warmed up), you can certainly grab the pumpkin butter and pie dough recipes and have at it yourself. I would say that in the end I got about 12 to 14  hand pies out of the one dough recipe. (And there is plenty of leftover pumpkin butter, so you could certainly make more dough to yield more pies.) The photo-236only other things you will need are a little egg wash (made from one egg yolk and a bit of cream) and some coarse sugar. I brushed a little of the egg wash around the edges of the dough circles before sealing them. And I also brushed the tops of the pies—for color and to help the sugar adhere. I used some raw cane sugar I happened to have around, but a cinnamon sugar mix might be nice to try, too.

P.S. If you’re in the process of making up your Thanksgiving menu, and you’re looking for side dish ideas, I’ve been posting my favorite side dishes on Face Book at Susie Middleton Cooks. And you can click here for a link to some of my older favorites.

P.P.S. My apologies for the fuzzy (and poorly lit) photos–my good camera has now left the repair place and apparently is being sent back to the “factory” for repair. Yikes.


What to Do with Those Garden Strawberries + A Gingery Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp Recipe

GingeryStrawberryRhubarbCrispPg.61Not since my parents gave me my weekly 50-cent allowance to bike down to Jack’s Market and buy a stash of penny candy have I been quite this excited. Every morning when I head out to the strawberry patch, I keep looking around for someone to give me permission, or at least to charge me an entry fee to the garden. I just can’t believe there’s a whole row of fresh, ripe strawberries simply lying around in my backyard waiting for me (and Libby, when she’s here) to eat. (Roy’s not much of a fruit guy.)  I’m truly and ridiculously giddy about this situation and I am not apologizing.


This is the first year we have enough for me to pick a bowlful every morning, but thankfully, not quite enough to sell at the farm stand. Too bad. This means most days, I get to decide how I want to eat them. I’m sure you can guess the next part—it is hard to get inside the house without eating most of them. But I have been practicing discipline.


Last weekend, knowing Libby was coming, I saved enough for the two of us to have a nice dessert with whipped cream on Saturday night. We ran out of time to make shortcakes, because we decided to make grilled pizza instead. (If I’d had time, I would have made one of two shortcake recipes from my fabulous baker friend Abby Dodge (author of The Weekend Baker and many other cookbooks). This one is chocolate (oh my!), the other is a classic tender shortcake that Abby did for a story I worked on at Fine Cooking magazine years ago. But since Libby is a huge whipped cream fan, we were okay with just the strawberries tossed in sugar and topped with vanilla (freshly) whipped cream.


Libby remarked at how tasty the strawberries were—I had warned her that they weren’t terribly sweet, because it has been cool here. But I found her comments interesting (she has a sharp palette), because I am finding these Ozark Beauties that we are growing to have a really intriguing citrusy flavor. They’re tangy for sure, and at first I kept looking for that super-sweet flavor you get with say, the famous Earli-Glow strawberry. But now I think that for using in desserts, these are particularly nice, adding an intriguing acidity.


The other really cool thing about fresh, ripe, picked-nearby strawberries is how red they are—all the way through. It seems like kind of an obvious thing—that a ripe strawberry should have red flesh—but as you know, most grocery store strawberries are mostly white on the inside.


Now I am saving my daily harvest to make one of my very favorite recipes in Fresh From the Farm—the Gingery Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with Brown Sugar-Pecan Topping. You have to make this one, I promise, even if you have to steal the strawberries from Mr. MacGregor’s garden! (Recipe below and photo above.)

After that, my next batch is definitely going to be my (and Libby’s) all-time favorite: homemade Strawberry-Vanilla Ice Cream. My other favorite frozen strawberry dessert is this Strawberry-Balsamic Granita from Fine Cooking, but Abby’s Strawberry Sorbet looks really good, too. I also see, among the many delicious strawberry dessert recipes Fine Cooking has on their site, an intriguing change-up to strawberries and yogurt—a Strawberry-Yogurt Brulee. Looks easy and delicious. And I remember loving all of Lori Longbotham’s strawberry concoctions, especially her roasted strawberries that she then used for her Triple Strawberry Ice Cream Sundaes–with chocolate-dipped strawberries!.

DSC_5897In the last strawberry days (which will trickle through the summer since the Ozark Beauties are everbearing), I will make Farmhouse French Toast with Backyard Berry Syrup as well as Yogurt and Strawberry Parfaits with Homemade Maple Granola (both from Fresh from the Farm). Maybe I’ll even have enough strawberries to finally make jam. I hope so, because my friend Cathy Barrow‘s recent article in the Washington Post (“Canning Class: Strawberry Jam that Works”) totally had me wishing I could stop right then and there and make jam.

Heck, maybe I’ll even be able to steer some of my berries to the freezer, so that I can recreate this glee in the middle of the winter. But don’t hold your breath. Think I’d better order more strawberry plants and get them in the ground this fall.

GingeryStrawberryRhubarbCrispPg.61Gingery Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp with Brown Sugar-Pecan Topping  

Copyright Susie Middleton, 2014, from Fresh From the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories.

This crisp rocks. Sweet and tangy with a most excellent crunchy topping, it gets a flavor jingle from two secret ingredients—crystallized ginger and a touch of balsamic vinegar. Cook the crisp until the topping is plenty golden (about 45 minutes)—enough time to let the fruit juices reduce and thicken a bit, too. This looks pretty in a 10-inch quiche pan, but any 2-quart baking dish will work. Great warm with vanilla ice cream, this crisp is pretty tasty leftover for breakfast, too. I should know.

Serves 6


For the topping

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for baking dish

1 cup all-purpose flour  

1/4 cup finely chopped toasted pecans

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup regular oats

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

For the filling

2 1/2 cups hulled, quartered strawberries  

2 1/2 cups thick-sliced rhubarb stalks (cut 1/2 inch thick; about 10 ounces)

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For serving

Vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt, or heavy cream (optional)


Heat the oven to 350°F. Rub a shallow 2-quart baking dish or large ceramic quiche dish all over with a little butter.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the crisp topping and mix together with your fingers until well-combined into large “crumbs.”

In a large mixing bowl, combine the filling ingredients and mix thoroughly. Arrange the filling mixture in the baking dish and top evenly with the topping mixture. (Depending on the size of your pan, you may have a little leftover topping. Freeze it for another use.)

Bake the crisp until the topping is firm and golden, about 45 minutes. (The juices will have been bubbling around the edges for a bit.) Let cool for 15 to 20 minutes and serve warm alone or with ice cream, frozen yogurt, or heavy cream.

top photo credit: Alexandra Grablewsky, from Fresh From the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories


A Poem and Blueberry Blossoms for a Rainy Day

Looking Out


Rain today is grace
out my window,
here inside
a pool of warm soft
prayer for a day
gained like the gift
of a blue hen’s egg
in the barn’s new hay;
a simple wool sweater
cocoon of words and
songs and coffee all
morning and into
afternoon’s breaking
clouds, pushed on
by a front insistent
on sunshine for the
sweet, long-shadow
close of day.
–      SM, April 29

Rifling through a drawer this week I found a poem I’d written in April—April of 2008, not long after coming to the Vineyard. But it felt familiar and comforting and perfect for this April (well, May now) and this rainy week. So I share it with you. And I’m sharing this beautiful picture of blueberry blossoms in our garden, because they fill me with hope and excitement. And because once again I don’t have a new veggie recipe I can offer you this week. Ironically, it’s not for not cooking. It’s just that I’m beholden not to publish the recipes.

I feel blessed with all the good work I have on my plate right now—writing, cooking, creating—but like Shylock’s pound of flesh, it’s all spoken for. I can’t share recipes or writing with you that’s bound for publication somewhere else down the road. I bet a lot of cookbook author-bloggers have this dilemma—you can be developing new recipes all day and not be able to share even a small bite with your blog readers. So it goes.

Since I have blueberries on the mind (not only am I excited about having our own bushes this year, but I’ve been cooking with blueberries this week, too. Yes, out of season—another quirk of the recipe development life), I’ll share a simple and delicious recipe for a crisp over on the Edible Vineyard site, just in case you can’t wait for summer.

And for those of you wondering how the baby chicks are doing, I share these pictures of Bambi, Libby, and Farmer. Bambi is chick no. 49 and has been living inside the house in a box on my desk under a lamp since the day after the chicks arrived (she was tiny and hadn’t figured out the food-and-water routine). I’m afraid chick no. 50 died rather suddenly last Saturday afternoon. We had high hopes for her since we’d managed to bring Bambi back from the brink with plenty of water and food, but this little gal was already on her way out when we took her out of the brooder. Libby was here and we shared that sad and inevitable aspect of farm life together. Fortunately, the other 48 are zipping around the brooder, growing their wing feathers already and eating and drinking (and napping) like crazy.

Meanwhile, we are using this time with Bambi (short for bambino) to teach Farmer about chickens—a couple times a day we take Bambi out to hold her and let Farmer sniff her. He gives her a kiss (a big slurping lick, which, yes, could be interpreted many different ways) and then moves along. Bambi seems nonplussed and hasn’t tried her beak out on him yet.

There’s all kinds of other stuff happening on the farmette; for instance, we now have a tractor. And it was free. I am not kidding—free (and it works). But that’s a whole ‘nother story. With the work Roy’s already done with it—and the 60 animals—it just seems like we blinked and the farmette grew up and became a real farm overnight. It must be meant to be, I guess. For now it’s back to desk work for me on this grey day, and may we all wake up tomorrow to sunshine and blueberry blossoms and little “cheep cheep” noises coming from a cardboard box.

Happiness is: Backyard Berries & Black Raspberry Ice Cream

Recently my old friends have been calling to say, “What gives? You can’t possibly be that happy or having that much fun.” They’ve been reading the blog, and they’re getting suspicious.

Look, I’m sorry for the Pollyanna spin. No, my life is not perfect—no one’s ever is. But I doubt anyone wants to read about my bad hair days, and I certainly don’t want to write about them (at least not on sixburnersue!). And I can honestly say I am not making the good stuff up. The reason the universe is treating me so kindly these days, is that, well, I did my time. And while I was slogging through the bad stuff, I started to listen to my inner voice. It said, “Go berry-picking.”

I’m kidding, but only sort of. Life is short, and I finally resolved to enjoy every day by living and working around the things that make me happy. These aren’t things that would necessarily seem fun to everyone (take weeding, for example), but they work for me. And so when summer comes, I pick berries.

Only now I have berries in my back yard – seriously. This is about as close to fresh-food nirvana as it gets for me. I’d have to say Roy is pretty jazzed, too—we went wild blueberry-picking on one of our first dates, after all. He’s been hacking away at overgrowth to expose the hidden black raspberry canes that seem to be in every corner of this property. Tonight, as I was about to post this blog, right about the time the sky was turning completely black from an approaching storm, Roy came rushing in to grab a bowl from the kitchen. “I’ve found the mother lode!” he exclaimed as the door banged shut. Curious, I wandered outside and listened to see if I could tell where the hacking noise was coming from. Soon I realized he was deep in the brush that surrounds and hides the old crumbling stone foundation for what was once a great big barn. He emerged, clutching a bowl of plump berries the color of the darkening sky, about the same time the rain drops started falling.

We first noticed the berry canes in early summer, but we weren’t sure exactly which berry they were or whether they’d bear much fruit. Now we know. While we’ve also found a few straggly wild raspberries (and two high-bush blueberries) on the property, these black raspberries are prolific. Someone must have tended them at some point.

Black raspberries are cultivated in Oregon, but out East you find them mostly in the wild, or occasionally sold at farm stands. They look like small red raspberries and grow on long prickly canes, but they aren’t fully ripe until they darken to a deep blue-black. They taste different, too—that inky color (yes, rich in antioxidants) gives them a grapey, smoky tartness closer to black berries than raspberries, I think. They’re not too tart to pop in your mouth, though, and I’ve noticed that Roy, who isn’t generally a big fruit-lover, sneaks a few every time he picks some.

Me, I’ve been putting them on my cereal, mixing them with warm maple syrup to pour over French toast, and, drum roll please—making ice cream with them. The best damn ice cream ever. Sorry, I’ve been told my language (still) needs work. But really, there’s something about the marriage of black raspberries and a creamy custard that’s incredibly delicious–a classic.

To make the ice cream, I used the same Fine Cooking recipe I used last year to make the strawberry ice cream, only I cut the recipe in half. The custard base, mixed with the berry puree, was (and is) delicious. The only problem this time around is that my ice cream has not really frozen past the consistency of a thick smoothie (or a very creamy gelato). Certainly okay by me, as I’d be happy just to drink the stuff. And I’m 99 percent sure this is an issue with my freezer (and my ice-cream-maker canister), but I bring it up just in case it’s the result of cutting the recipe in half. So I share the half-recipe with the caveat that if you’ve got copious amounts of berries (of whatever sort), go ahead and make the full recipe as detailed in the strawberry post last year. And maybe splurge on a good ice-cream maker (I wish!).

Black Raspberry Ice Cream (Half-Recipe)

Adapted from Fine Cooking magazine article by David Lebovitz; for more ice cream recipes, visit

With this small-batch recipe, it’s a little difficult to read an instant-read thermometer in the shallow custard in the sauce pan. Look for visual clues to know the custard has thickened. I used three medium egg yolks since the full recipe called for 5 large egg yolks. If you don’t have medium eggs, go ahead and use 3 yolks from large eggs. Your custard may thicken up a bit more quickly.


1/2 pound ripe black raspberries (or other cane berries), rinsed

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 cup heavy cream

3 medium egg yolks

1/2 cup whole milk

table salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


Make the berry puree: In a food processor, puree the black raspberries until completely smooth. Strain the berry puree through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl or glass measure. (Press on the solids to be sure to extract all of the juice.) Stir in 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar. Refrigerate the puree until ready to use. (Can be done 24 hours ahead.)

Prepare an ice bath: Fill a large bowl with several inches of ice water (half ice, half water). Set a smaller metal bowl (such as a stainless steel mixing bowl) in the ice water. Pour 1/2 cup of the heavy cream into the inner bowl. (This will help the custard cool more quickly when you pour it in later). Set a fine-mesh strainer on top.

Make the custard: Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl and set aside. In a medium saucepan, mix the remaining 1/2 cup of the cream with the milk, the remaining sugar, and a pinch of salt. Heat the mixture over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and tiny bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan, 3 to 4 minutes. In a steady stream, pour half of the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling. (This is called “tempering” – a good step when making any kind of custard. Be sure to pay close attention during this.)

Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heatproof cooking spoon or spatula until the custard thickens slightly and measures 175°F to 180°F on an instant-read thermometer, anywhere from 2 to 6 minutes. (Mine thickened up quickly.)The custard will be a bit more viscous and thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, holding a line drawn through it with a finger. Don’t let the sauce overheat or boil or it will curdle.

Immediately strain the custard into the cold cream in the ice bath.

Cool the custard: Stir the custard frequently over the ice bath until an instant-read thermometer measures 70°F (or the custard feels to be at about room temperature—this won’t take long). Add the vanilla extract and stir. Add all of the black raspberry puree and mix well.

Chill and freeze the custard: Chill the custard mixture in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours (or overnight—in fact it holds for two days.) Freeze the ice cream in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Makes about one pint.

Back Door Gifts and Cinnamon-Rhubarb Muffins

A pile of freshly cut rhubarb stalks appeared at our back door last week, courtesy of our neighbor Ralph. This is one of the strange and wonderful things about living on the Vineyard: People are in the habit of sharing…without much fuss or fanfare. Stuff just shows up, unbidden but much appreciated. In the short time we’ve been living in the farmhouse, we’ve been the grateful recipients of beach plum jelly, wild cherry jam, honey, eggs, lobsters, codfish, sweet potatoes, pickles, warm bread and kale soup, to name a few things.

I was particularly excited to see those beautiful rhubarb stalks, since I won’t be harvesting any this year from the new plant I plopped in the ground a few weeks ago at the southeast corner of the garden. As soon as I got the plant, it immediately sent up its monstrous flower stalk. The flower is fascinating (see photo), but after admiring it for a while, I lopped it off, hoping to return the plant’s energy to its stalks. Still, it’s a baby plant and I won’t be cooking from it this year.

I knew right away what I wanted to make with the rhubarb gift—a favorite Fine Cooking recipe from years ago. It’s a fabulously tender muffin from award-winning North Carolina baker Karen Barker. The tart little rhubarb bits melt into these light coffee-cake-like treats, which are topped with cinnamon sugar. The batter has sour cream, melted butter, cinnamon, and vanilla in it, and it comes together really easily. Twenty minutes in the oven and nirvana. Roy was home from work cutting and pounding out a piece of copper in his shop when the muffins came out of the oven. So I stopped snapping photos long enough to get a few warm muffins out to him. He likes anything with cinnamon sugar on it, but especially if it’s straight out of the oven.

I had enough rhubarb left over to mess around again with a strawberry-rhubarb compote I’ve been tinkering with. I’ve seen a lot of blog posts lately about roasted strawberries (something we also did at Fine Cooking years ago!) and was hoping I could make an oven–roasted compote with both rhubarb and strawberries that would be a bit roasty-flavored and perhaps would keep the rhubarb together better than a stovetop version. I won’t bore you with my experiments (which included some ghastly rhubarb “chips!”) but I will give you the parameters (below) for the compote as it stands now, because it’s an incredibly easy, versatile, seasonal condiment. I use it most often in my favorite treat—yogurt and granola parfaits—but I also put it in smoothies (with frozen bananas) and on pancakes. And of course it would be great on vanilla ice cream.

I’ve resigned myself to a syrupy, soft-fruit dessert-topping-ish kind of compote, and this texture is just a-okay with me. What I’m not quite happy with yet is the sweet-tart flavor balance. My first version wasn’t quite sweet enough and the second version was too sweet. But just futzing with the sweetness won’t necessarily fix this, because rhubarb has a unique tartness that doesn’t really get mitigated by more sweet. Sweet flavors can hang out with rhubarb, but not knock it back altogether. Too much sweet and you just get cloying. Right now I also have a bit of balsamic vinegar (great with strawberries) and orange juice in this, and I’m thinking to knock those back even more and switch out more of the plain sugar for more maple syrup. (I’m wondering about adding vanilla, too?) But since I probably won’t get to the next version any time soon, I’m leaving the tweaks up to you. (I don’t usually offer experiments on the blog—I like to give you finished recipes, but something like this really does involve a measure of personal taste!) In the directions following, I’m suggesting a middle road on the maple and sugar and a little less balsamic then my last batch.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote: Heat the oven to 425 degrees and butter a 3-quart baking dish. Slice 8 ounces of rhubarb into 1/2-inch pieces (a scant 2 cups), and quarter or halve about 10 ounces of (organic or local) strawberries (2 cups). Put them in a mixing bowl with 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar, 3 tablespoons maple syrup, 2 tablespoons orange juice, and 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with a little salt, toss well, and scrape and pour out into the baking dish. Spread in one layer. Bake for 20 minutes, stir gently with a silicone spoon, and continue baking until the liquids are syrupy (but not too reduced or they will burn), about another 6 to 10 minutes. Let cool in the pan, transfer to a glass or ceramic container and keep in the fridge for a week or so. This makes about 1 cup compote.

P.S. I seem to have a thing for saucy rhubarb recipes–see my chutney recipe I posted last spring. (This year I gave in to the classic strawberry pairing!)

Peaches & Cream: A Taste of Summer in Lewes, Delaware

Traveling is not my forte. I always pack too much, eat bad fast food that I don’t want, and wind up becoming cranky and homesick.  I like to think this is because I was born under the sign of Cancer (with Cancer-rising, too—the double whammy). This accounts for both my extreme homebodiness and my crabbiness when hungry (and when my edible options are less than desirable). Every Zodiac sign has a body part associated with it. For Cancers, it’s the stomach.

In fact, if it weren’t for things like farmers’ markets, sweet shops (freshly made ice cream or artisan chocolates, preferably), and coffee joints, you would not want to travel with me. But if a town can supply me with these three things, I’m good.

I’d have to say, on the farmers market/sweet shop/coffee joint scale, it would be hard to rank as high as a town like Portland, Oregon, where I visited this spring. I slurped deep dark hot chocolate at Cacao (kind of a chocolate bar that sells chocolate bars—as well as chocolate drinks), squirreled away fresh hazelnuts, buckwheat honey, and aged cheddar from the knock-your-socks off Saturday farmers’ market, and treated myself to a cup of my favorite Major Dickason’s Blend at Peet’s every morning. Portland has a reverence for coffee, for farming, for cooking, and for hand-crafted artisan foods like no other town I’ve seen.

So it is hardly fair to talk about Lewes, Delaware, in the same breath. As food towns go, little Lewes is not going to burn a hole in your Zagat Guide. But I’m afraid it would be on Page One of the Susie Guide. It’s a sentimental thing, for sure. My Dad’s family has been living (and eating) in this coastal town for 300 years, and it’s there that I learned to pick crabs, eat corn on the cob with my new adult teeth, make homemade peach ice cream and Beach Plum jelly with my Dad, and dig clams with my cousins. My best food memories are all right there. Or at least they were last weekend when we traveled down to celebrate my Dad’s 80th birthday.

On Saturday, when I walked down Second St. past St. Peter’s Church where all my relatives are buried in the cemetery, past the old Victorian house my great-grandmother lived in, and onto Ship Carpenter Street and the grassy grounds of the Lewes Historical Society, I got goose bumps. Here was the farmers’ market in full swing. It’s a young market—only 5 years old—but it has caught on strong, and now it attracts growers and food artisans from all over the Delmarva peninsula. I looked around, and it seemed like a whole group of unknown friends had made a secret effort to keep all my childhood food memories alive.

Right there was the white sweet corn—the very sweetest, juiciest corn you will ever find anywhere (it’s the Delaware soil, they say). I embarrassed myself by asking if this variety was Silver Queen. “No, we haven’t grown that one in years,” the (young) kid told me. “This one’s called Argent.” “Argent as in A-r-g-e-n-t?” I said. “Something like that,” he replied. (That night, I discovered that Argent, however you spell it, is even better than Silver Queen—or at least my memory of it.)

Stuffing a dozen ears into my bag, I lurched over to the big truck under the maple tree that was loaded up with red bushels of peaches. Peaches! Oh Boy! Real, tree-ripened, fragrant, soft Delaware peaches. Not my favorite white variety (they’ll be ripe next week, the nice folks from Bennett Orchards told me), but a very fabulous yellow variety called Red Haven. Bennett Orchards (in Frankford, Delaware, less than 30 miles from Lewes), I learned, grows 19 different varieties of peaches from July through early September, and I am already sad that I will not get to sample the other 18 varieties this summer. (I took my little stash home and sliced the first one up raw and drizzled it with what is arguably Lewes’ true claim to culinary fame—ultra rich, buttery yellow Lewes Dairy heavy cream.) This is the way my grandmother Honey served peaches. Peeled & sliced. With Lewes cream. Period. Nothing better.

By the time we waded out of the farmers’ market (it was 90+ degrees and 75% humidity, so we were literally wading), we also had a wedge of Talbot Reserve cheese from Chapel’s Country Creamery in Easton, Maryland, a jar of local honey, and, among other tidbits, a bumper sticker (“No Farms, No Food”).

I figured the farmers’ market would be the highlight of the day, but I didn’t know what my Dad and sister had in store for us that night: a ride out to Hopkins Creamery for ice cream. (I’d never been.) On the drive out through the cornfield-lined back roads of Lewes, Dad and Ellie kept talking about the smell of cow poo and the best ice cream ever in the same breath.

Sure enough, as twilight faded, we saw a huge silo looming ahead, silhouetted in the blue-grey sky, its painted decoration of ice cream cones barely discernible. We trolled around for a parking spot and eyed the long lines of folks outside the creamery—which is right next to the huge dairy barn full of cows. We didn’t have to get out of the car to breathe in the familiar odor of cow manure.  Judging by the long lines, this seems to be an experience most folks appreciate—knowing exactly the source of their ice cream. But it kept my mom at home in air-conditioned, odor-free comfort. Too bad, as she missed the best ice cream I’ve ever had. After our turn in a long line, I followed suit with Dad and Ellie and chose Cappuccino Delight, a coffee ice cream with bits of toffee in it. (Roy had his favorite—vanilla.) The rich, buttery, full-fat ice cream was heavenly, even better licked off a crunchy sugar cone while watching a new calf lounge in the hay of the open dairy barn.

What a great trip—sweet corn, peaches, cream, cheese, ice cream. Oh yeah, we did roast a lot of tomatoes and cook green beans, too. It wasn’t a total vacation from (green) vegetables. And I didn’t get a stomach ache; not even once.

Desperately Seeking Strawberries for Susie (and Ice Cream)

One of my favorite parts about the CSA I belonged to last year was the weekly strawberry picking in June. This year, with my own market garden, I knew I couldn’t join the CSA, but I was resting easy thinking the strawberry patch would be open to the public like it was last year.

Never assume anything.

Naturally, due to weather conditions causing blossom drop, the strawberry crop wasn’t large enough to share with non-CSAers. Big bummer, as there aren’t any other pick-your-own strawberry patches on Martha’s Vineyard.  Years ago I lived on Aquidneck Island (home to Newport, Rhode Island) and every June we’d head over to Quonset View Farms, high up in the middle of the island where the cold fog off the ocean just kisses the plants and fades away in time for daily sun baths. The soil must be pretty special there, too, as I swear I’ve never tasted strawberries so sweet and juicy. At Quonset View, it was hard to get out of the field without eating most of your berries.

Ever since then, I haven’t really been able to eat much in the way of commercial strawberries, which tend to be hard and white in the middle and short on flavor. I wait 11 months for the real deal. It’s kind of torturous, but pretty blissful when the local berries ripen. I try to pick enough to freeze some for later months, too, but they never last very long.

My longing was made even worse this year by the fact that Rebecca has been selling strawberry plants at the farm stand where my garden is. Every day that I pass by these beauties, another berry ripens on one of the plants, red and juicy and drooping seductively on its green stem, just begging to be eaten.

I finally broke down and bought a couple of the plants (and plunked them in the garden), mostly because my 7-year-old gardening (and cooking) companion Libby insisted. I tried to explain that strawberries are perennial and also that just a couple plants wouldn’t yield much, but she wouldn’t hear of it. So we have been ritually sharing each single berry on these two plants as they ripen.

I also finally got myself in the car and went down-Island to visit two farms that I thought might be selling their strawberries. It wouldn’t be quite the same as picking my own, but time was running out. I struck gold at both Norton Farm and Morning Glory Farm, and I finally had enough strawberries to do what I’ve been waiting a year for—to make ice cream.

Last year, the June-July issue of Fine Cooking magazine arrived just before strawberry-picking time, and it had in it the most amazing article on creating your own custom-flavored ice cream.  The recipe came from pastry wizard David Lebovitz, and the step by step “create your own” approach is a regular Fine Cooking feature. I thought the format was a brilliant choice for an ice cream recipe, because it allows you to flavor your custard with whatever infusions, add-ins, and/or mix-ins you like to make practically anything—from Hazelnut Chocolate Chunk and Double Ginger to Irish Coffee or Rocky Road.

For my first go-round, I knew I wanted something fruity. I have strong memories of home made fresh Delaware white peach ice cream. My father used to make it in a big old fashioned ice-cream maker on the front porch of our beach cottage in August when I was a little girl. Profoundly comforting. I knew peaches weren’t in season yet (and sadly, not nearly so good up here), but that strawberry patch was beckoning. So to test out the recipe, I chose pureed strawberries and vanilla extract for my flavor add-ins.

Wow. The ice cream was to die-for, rich and silky from the egg yolks and cream, and packed with true strawberry flavor. I fell in love with it. And I’ve waited a whole year to make it again.

Late last week, I got out my little hand-cranked Donvier ice-cream freezer and made sure the cannister was chilling in the freezer. I made the strawberry puree on Thursday (photo at left), and the custard Friday morning. I chilled both and waited for my friend Libby to arrive. Friday night, after a chicken kabob barbeque (with a salad of all our own salad greens and radishes, of course), we sat down to play Sorry and to freeze the custard, each one of us taking a turn at the crank as we went around the game board. When it was about the texture of soft-serve, we couldn’t wait any longer and spooned it into sugar cones. For a moment there wasn’t a sound but for a little slurping and crunching. And then, from Libby, “When can we make more?”

Here’s the recipe, adapted and collapsed from the “make your own” format. If strawberry ice cream isn’t your thing, or you simply want to try other flavor combos,  visit the cool interactive feature on Fine Cooking’s website.

Strawberry-Vanilla Ice Cream

Adapted from Fine Cooking magazine article by David Lebovitz; for more ice cream recipes, visit

1 pound ripe strawberries, washed and hulled

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

2 cups heavy cream

5 large egg yolks

1 cup whole milk

table salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the strawberry puree: In a blender, puree the strawberries until completely smooth. Strain the berry puree through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl or glass measure. (Press on the solids to be sure to extract all of the juice.) Stir in 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar. Refrigerate the puree until ready to use. (Can be done 24 hours ahead.)

Prepare an ice bath: Fill a large bowl with several inches of ice water (half ice, half water). Set a smaller metal bowl (such as a stainless steel mixing bowl, at least a 6-cup capacity), in the ice water. Pour 1 cup of the heavy cream into the inner bowl. (This will help the custard cool more quickly when you pour it in later). Set a fine-mesh strainer on top.

Make the custard: Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl and set aside. In a medium saucepan, mix the remaining 1 cup of the cream with the milk, the remaining ¾ cup sugar, and a pinch of salt. Heat the mixture over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and tiny bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan, 3 to 4 minutes. In a steady stream, pour half of the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling. (This is called “tempering” – a good step when making any kind of custard. Be sure to pay close attention during this.)

Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat (or medium low if your stove is electric!), stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heatproof cooking spoon or spatula until the custard thickens slightly and measures 175°F to 180°F on an instant-read thermometer, anywhere from 4 to 10 minutes. (The custard will be a bit more viscous and thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, holding a line drawn through it with a finger.) Don’t let the sauce overheat or boil or it will curdle.

Immediately strain the custard into the cold cream in the ice bath.

Cool the custard: Stir the custard frequently over the ice bath until an instant-read thermometer measures 70°F. Add the vanilla extract and stir. Add all of the strawberry puree and mix well. (This is one of the totally fun parts—watching the pink and cream swirls come together!).

Chill and freeze the custard: Chill the strawberry-vanilla custard mixture in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours (or overnight—in fact, it holds for two days.) Freeze the ice cream in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Note: This recipe yields about 1 quart. My small ice cream maker only makes one pint at a time. If you’re in that boat, simply keep the remaining custard chilled and use it in the next day or two.