The vegetable garden is humming along nicely, producing a bounty of fat, sweet sugar snap and shell peas, peppery mache, and tender red and green leaf lettuces, plenty for salads every day. Our pole beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes are in bloom. There are ripe black raspberries to pick each morning and the resident squirrels are feasting on our strawberries (next year I will wrap the barrel in chicken wire). There are mountains of cilantro and mint and a steady supply of creeping thyme and oregano.

Clockwise from top left: sugar snap peas, mache, pole beans, leaf lettuces

Clockwise from top left: potted tomatoes, strawberries, cucumber blossoms, black raspberries

Flowers are in full bloom along the front and side fences. Finally, my novice landscaping efforts are starting to pay off — next year, the perennials will be large enough to divide and replant in new areas of the yard.

Clockwise from top left: coneflower, pineapple mint, potentilla, rudbeckia Indian summer


We went apple picking last Monday and brought home a half bushel — that’s about 20 lbs. — of apples.  One week later, only five remain in the bottom of the bag.  The rest have been sliced, diced, grated, baked, sauced, or eaten raw — a team effort (at least the eating part) to be sure.

Having polished off last week’s pie and diligently stocked the freezer with three quarts of sauce, this afternoon’s project was a giant apple crumble.  I wanted it just sweet and buttery enough to make a satisfying dessert, yet not too rich to serve for breakfast with a few spoonfuls of yogurt.  (For breakfast?  Yes, breakfast.  Such are the sacrifices one makes after picking a half bushel.)

If you’re headed out to the orchard — or the farmers’ market — this week with baking in mind, choose you apples wisely.  My all time favorites for pies, crisps, cobblers, and crumbles are tart and sturdy:  Northern Spy, Pink Lady, Gravestein, Jonagold.  I love Macouns, too, though they’re very juicy — toss them with a little extra flour before tucking them into a pie.  Cortlands are drier and hold their shape perfectly when baked, but I find their cooked texture a bit mealy.  And nothing beats Macintosh for apple sauce — they’re sweet, requiring little if any added sugar, and they fall apart quickly when cooked.

Apple crumble

Yield:  One 13×9″ pan, serving 6-8

For apples:

4 lbs.  (10-12 medium) apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ slices

About 1/4 c. packed, light brown sugar (depending on the sweetness of your apples)

Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 tbsp.)

2 tsp. cinnamon

For crumble:

1 1/2 c. rolled oats

1 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2 c. packed, light brown sugar

Pinch fine sea salt

1/2 c. cold butter (or use a non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening), cut into small pieces, plus a little extra for the pan

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly butter a 9×13″ baking pan.

In a large mixing bowl, toss sliced apples with sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine oats, flour, sugar, and salt.  Using your fingertips, rub butter into oat mixture until moist and crumbly.

Spoon apples and any accumulated juices into baking pan.  Top evenly with crumble.  Bake until lightly browned and bubbly, 45-55 minutes.

Nothing beats a splash of lemon on a scorching hot day.  Instead of mixing up a whole pitcher, I keep a  jar of lemon syrup in the fridge (combine the sugar syrup and lemon juice, but don’t dilute with extra water).  That way I can make lemonade by the glassful for the kids, mix it with carbonated water for myself, or shake up a quick cocktail after bedtime.

Classic lemonade

Yield:  Serves 4.

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1/2 c. water (for dissolving sugar)

1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 2 large lemons)

2 to 3 c. cold water

Combine sugar and 1/2 c. water in a small saucepan.  Warm over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is just dissolved.  Allow to cool slightly.  Combine sugar syrup and lemon juice in a small pitcher, then dilute with cold water to taste.  Serve over ice.

Another strawberry dessert recipe?  Yes indeedy!  Local strawberries are still abundant and affordable here in eastern MA, possibly due to an unusually cool June, so we will eat them and eat them until they disappear (Then we will eat blueberries.  And then apples. Then more apples.  Then more apples…).

I like the rustic ease of a galette for summer.  Less formal and quicker to bake than a pie, this free-form tart practically begs to be eaten outside, with a view of the countryside (or from the fire escape) and a glass of sparkling wine or a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

In this recipe, cornmeal — always lovely with berries — gives the crust a textural bite that I find balances the acidity of the fruit nicely.  If you prefer, a plain pate brisee will work as well.

Strawberry galette with cornmeal crust

Yield:  Serves 6 (or maybe just 4).

For pastry:

1 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/3 c. cornmeal

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 c. cold butter, cut into small pieces

About 1/4 c. ice water, as needed

For filling:

2 pints strawberries, halved or quartered if large

1/4 c. sugar (granulated or light brown)

2 tbsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Milk (any kind) and granulated sugar for crust (optional)

Make pastry:

Sift flour, cornmeal, and salt into a mixing bowl.  Cut in butter with a pastry blender (or whatever method you like best) until mixture is sandy, allowing some pea-sized chunks of butter to remain.

Slowly drizzle in water, stirring constantly with a fork until dough starts to come together.  If you press the dough into a ball and it crumbles when you let go, add another tablespoon or two of water.

Flatten dough into a disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight (or make it in advance and freeze it).

Assemble galette:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

On a large, square piece of parchment paper lightly dusted with flour, roll pastry into a rough circle about 14 inches in diameter.  Transfer pastry and paper to a sheet pan and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Toss berries, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla in a mixing bowl.  Spoon into center of pastry, leaving a 2-inch border of uncovered pastry all around.  Fold up edges of pastry around berries, pleating dough every 3 inches or so.  If you like, you can brush the crust lightly with milk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for about 35 minutes, or until pastry is lightly browned and berries are bubbling.

Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream (or frozen soy yogurt).

Make it vegan: Use a non-hydrogenated, vegetable-based shortening in place of butter in the pastry.

We went to a strawberry festival this weekend.  There was a muddy hayride around the farm, a pen of lovable baby barnyard animals, and — to our four year old’s utter delight — a hands-behind-the-back strawberry shortcake eating contest.  His milk allergy precludes him from diving face-first into a bowl of whipped cream and buttery biscuits, but this quintessential early summer dessert is easy enough to adapt for his dairy-free diet.  I made it that night at home, with a lightly sweetened version of our usual baking powder biscuits, berries from the farm, and vanilla frozen soy yogurt.  The whole family gobbled it up (George most enthusiastically, as he was permitted to reenact the messy contest to his heart’s content).

Strawberry shortcake

Yield:  Serves 8.

For berries:

2 lb. strawberries, quartered

A spoonful or two of granulated sugar, depending on sweetness of strawberries

For biscuits:

2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

2 tbsp. granulated sugar

1 tbsp. baking powder

1 tsp. fine sea salt

6 tbsp. cold butter, cut into pieces

3/4 c. whole milk

For serving:

Lightly sweetened, whipped cream (or vanilla ice cream)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, toss strawberries with sugar and let macerate while you make the biscuits.  (Seasonal, local strawberries will be plenty sweet on their own, but you need at least a pinch or two of sugar to draw out their juice.)

Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl.  Using a pastry blender (or whatever method you like best), cut butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Pour in milk and stir until just combined.  Dough will be sticky.

Turn dough out on a floured counter and knead gently a few times until smooth.  Press into a roughly 6×12-inch rectangle.  Using a pizza wheel or paring knife, cut dough in half lengthwise, then in quarters crosswise to form eight 3-inch squares.  Transfer squares to a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake until puffed and starting to brown, about 12 minutes.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.

To serve, split biscuits and top with strawberries and whipped cream or ice cream.

Make it vegan: Use a non-hydrogenated, vegetable shortening (Earth Balance’s  vegan buttery sticks are my favorite) instead of butter, and soy milk instead of whole milk.  We loved the shortcakes with vanilla frozen soy yogurt, but a vegan whipped topping or even vanilla soy yogurt would do the trick.

You can smell it, squeeze it, tap it, and shake it, but you can’t really know for sure if you have a great cantaloupe until you taste it.  When you luck into a perfect one, treat yourself to a block of the best feta cheese you can find and try this easy, elegant salad.  You could add a pinch of basil chiffonade and a slice of prosciutto or sopressata, if you like.  Just make sure your melon is at room temperature — chilled fruit tastes less sweet.

Cantaloupe and feta cheese

Yield:  Serves 6 as a first course

1 ripe cantaloupe, at room temperature

5 oz. best-quality feta cheese, crumbled

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Halve and seed cantaloupe, then cut each half into 6 wedges.  Remove rind from each wedge.  Arrange 2 wedges on each salad plate.  Divide cheese among plates, then drizzle each with a tiny bit of olive oil and a grinding of pepper.

June has arrived, the farmers’ market in town is finally open, and strawberries are affordable again.  In-season berries don’t really need dressing up, but if you’re looking for a simple yet sophisticated summer fruit salad, this is the one.

I like the macerated berries for lunch with Greek yogurt or hearty, seeded bread spread with creamy goat cheese.  For a spectacular dessert — spooned over vanilla ice cream — try Grand Marnier in place of the vinegar.

Strawberries with balsamic vinegar and mint

Yield:  Serves 1-2

Two handfuls strawberries, hulled and quartered

A few mint leaves, cut chiffonade or finely chopped

A splash of balsamic vinegar

A pinch or two of sugar, depending on sweetness of berries and according to taste

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and stir to combine.  Let macerate 10 minutes, stir again, and serve.