Category Archives: Fruits

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.