What summer is, part 1

Starting with late spring’s harvest of strawberries and going all the way through corn and tomatoes and blackberries and peaches, summer is about forgoing a temperate climate for the pleasure of letting sweet things grown in the sun roll around on your tongue.

Last weekend I went to Todd Johnson’s house in Connecticut for an intensive writing retreat. We are both working on novels and both in the stage where we need to be writing a bunch of words a day. That said, one still has to eat. We stopped at a strawberry field on the way from the train to the house and bought a quart of just picked strawberries. (Dear Reader, we did not pick the strawberries ourselves, though that was certainly an option.) Strawberries from the field look so different from the cat-head sized ones you buy at the supermarket. And while the catheads are mostly water and white hull, the ones we got in CT were small, bright red, and saturated with deep, red strawberry-ness. The juice tastes like honey, only clear and thirst-quenching rather than viscous and syrupy.

But enough of that. You know what a freshly picked, ripe strawberry tastes like (an argument for the existence of God.) And speaking of the Divine, we also picked up a pint of heavy whipping cream, not ultra pasteurized. Took it home, got to work writing, and then met 3 hours later for dinner. From the city I had brought some of my spinach / artichoke dip. We poured it into a casserole dish, sprinkled the top with Parmesan cheese, heated it then ran it under the broiler. We ate this with toasted French bread. And then we skipped past any thoughts of a main course and went straight for dessert. Strawberry shortcake. I had made a simple biscuit dough using cream instead of buttermilk, and butter instead of shortening or lard. Plus I added 2 T. of sugar to the dough. Todd didn’t have a biscuit cutter so we punched them out with the top of a drinking glass, brushed the tops with melted butter and a little sugar, and put them in a hot, hot oven. Meanwhile I whipped the cream with vanilla and sugar. I had already hulled the strawberries, cut them in half, and added a little sugar to them just to get them good and juicy. We got some mint from the garden, and had our assembly line all set up. As soon as the biscuits came out of the oven, we split them in half, put four halves in each of our bowls, poured strawberries and juice all over the hot biscuits, piled softly whipped cream on top of that, poured on more strawberries and juice, and then sprinkled it all with some mint leaves cut in a chiffonade.

Dear Reader, it was good. And the next day I wrote a scene in which my characters ate strawberry shortcake…

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