One kid's adventures in gastronomy


Strawberries and Cream

This year, our favorite organic berry-picking patch was overrun by hungry deer, so we couldn’t pick our usual lovely collection. Mama found another patch, though it was much less unkempt. Witness the weeds:

I didn't like picking these strawberries because it was too much work. I kept asking Mama to add her berries into my basket.

I didn’t like picking these strawberries because it was too much work hunting for them. I kept asking Mama to add her berries into my basket.

But the berries were warmed by the sun, and they positively burst when I bit into them.

At home, Mama ended up doing all the cleaning, but I helped her by eating a lot of those strawberries so that there were fewer of them for her to clean.

With them, we made a lot of freezer jam. We’ve made it before, but this time Mama tried a new recipe, based loosely on this one. Voilà:

Though all the jars ended up sealing, we're going to store them in the fridge & freezer.

Though all the jars ended up sealing, we’re going to store them in the fridge & freezer.

But the real show stopper, the easiest and most delicious part, was the fresh berries with whipped cream we ate for dessert. Mama says anyone with a whisk can whip cream, but not everyone does it correctly. She showed me how to do it right.

First, we kept everything cold, including the bowl and the beaters. Mama said this isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s been pretty hot out lately, so better to be safe—you’ll get a better whip with cold equipment. (She also wanted to save her arms by not whipping it by hand, though she suggests everyone ought to give that a try sometime.)

Mama explained that the only cream that’s going to whip is heavy cream, or whipping cream (either one will work). If you try to whip light cream or half-and-half, you’ll be whipping until I turn 4. This is because of the fat content (the fat is what holds it together). She also explained that plain whipped cream tastes about as bland as… well, plain whipping cream. Bleck.

Jude on Food: Flavor everything!

To remedy this, Mama showed me how to make chantilly cream. If you’re feeling fancy, you can pronounce it “shahn-tee-ee,” but I’m really good at making “L” sounds, so I’m going to stick with that. Chantilly is basically sweetened whipped cream with added vanilla.

You can find all sorts of recipes for basic chantilly cream, but Mama’s advice is to taste it once it’s beginning to whip up. If it needs more vanilla (or other flavoring, such as orange, lemon, or almond), add it. If it could be sweeter, sprinkle in more sugar. As for the type of sweetener you use, regular sugar works fine, but Mama likes to use confectioners’ sugar—that’s the soft powdery kind we sometimes put on crepes. She told me she’s never tried other sweeteners, but she supposes they would work just as well. (If you try one, let us know!)

Two other things Mama noted about making whipped cream: 1) go slowly—if you rush it by turning your mixer on high speed, you’ll not only splatter cream everywhere (as I found out), but you’ll heat up the cream, and it’ll take longer. 2) Don’t overwhip it.

whipping cream/

Whip it–whip it real good!

The problem with overwhipping cream isn’t the taste. It’s the texture. Even I don’t want my whipped cream to look like cottage cheese. Ewww, right? You can whip it to soft peaks or stiff peaks, but if you go beyond that, you can’t do much with it…except, maybe stuff it into something.

Because it’s just Mama and me right now (Papa’s out of town), she showed me what would happen if we pushed the cream too far:

Who am I kidding? I'd still eat that.

Who am I kidding? I’d still eat that.

Mama let me beat the cream at first (note the splatters), but then took over to finish the job. I took this picture (and about 18 more like it):

Do you see the trails that are created by the beaters? They're loosely holding their shape, but they're still very soft.

See the trails that are created by the beaters? They’re loosely holding their shape, but they’re still very soft.

Another way to tell when the cream is getting close is to stop beating it and check how it looks on the beater.

The whipped cream is just clinging to the beaters, and there's a soft little peak down in the bowl.

The whipped cream is just clinging to the beaters, and there’s a soft little peak down in the bowl.

From here to ruin is a short path, so beat carefully from now on. If you’re planning to pipe the cream, you’ll want stiffer peaks, as they’ll hold their shape. If you’re looking for just a bit of billowy adornment, as we want for our berries, then stop when they’re soft.

Stiff cream will hold in the fridge, covered, for a day or so. Soft cream should be used pretty soon after it’s made. If it starts to weep, give it a light whipping with a whisk before using.

berries and cream/

And what’s not to like about having a little whipped cream on hand?

Love, Jude

Chantilly Cream

1 cup cold heavy cream or whipping cream*
1 Tbsp powdered sugar (or, to taste)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or, to taste)

Place cream, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl and beat at low speed with an electric mixer (or in the bowl of a stand mixer with whip attachment); alternatively, use a whisk. When the cream begins to take shape, you may increase your speed a little bit more, but not more than medium. Move the beaters around the bowl and rotate the bowl to ensure you reach all the edges. Beat until desired stiffness, then serve or store until ready to use.

This dessert is Mama approved AND Jude approved.

This dessert is Mama approved AND Jude approved.

Note: For an extra-special treat, try whipping crème fraiche. As sour cream’s sophisticated (and more pricey) cousin, it’s tangy and makes for a great complement to lemon curd and supersweet berries.

For a vegan alternative, put a can of full-fat coconut milk in the fridge overnight. Without shaking it, take it out of the fridge, remove the lid, and scoop out the solid white part. (Reserve the watery portion for smoothies.) Whip & flavor the white solids like you would cream.


Cooking lessons first, morality lessons later

When Mama was growing up, she told me she had an Italian plum tree and a sour cherry tree in her yard; later, there were apple trees. One by one, though, they began to die, but the plums and “sours” (as she calls them) continue to be among her favorite fruits. It’s probably how she came to pinch the cherries from the tree down the street from her, in the yard of an old woman whose tiny house was all that stood guard over the coveted summer crop.

It’s a wonder, then, that it took three summers before Mama noticed the wild raspberry bush in our neighbor’s yard…especially since the house has been vacant since before I was born. When she noticed the red gems glowing in the sunlight, she darted across our semi-private mountain road with me (after looking both ways, of course) and pointed out the very reddest ones, showing me how to pick them and either pop them right into my mouth or put them in a dish. (Sometimes I pick the orange ones and throw them because that’s fun too.) She only let me get the berries closest to the edge of the bush because, as she soon discovered, the vines and leaves were positively covered in thorns of all sizes that made her skin itch.

Mama explained I can only ever pick berries when I’m with her or Papa, and only then, just the berries they say are okay to eat. (Papa later pointed out that she failed to explain that we shouldn’t be picking someone else’s berries without their permission. Mama replied, “Who’s there to ask?”) Luckily, there’s a small vine of berries on our side of the road, in front of the whistlepig’s hole, so maybe next year it will have enough fruit for us.

This is a photo from this year. We get about this many berries every other day.

This is photo was taken a year after the original post. We get about this many berries every other day.

Until then, Mama goes on a raspberry raid almost every day, though she sadly reports that they’re coming to an end. I get to eat them with my yogurt in the morning or as a snack throughout the day. They’re yummy and very sweet. I like that they’re so tiny, and Mama likes that they keep in the fridge for a couple days without spoiling. When she started picking more than we could eat, though, she decided to make a small batch of freezer jam. Because it gets very hot and can splatter, she didn’t let me near the stove when she made it. But I did get to taste the result when she spread it on a homemade flatbread that Papa grilled, then topped with arugula and dollops of ricotta. Wherever the fruit comes from, I could get used to this kind of eating.

Love, Jude

Purloined Wild Raspberry Freezer Jam 

2 cups wild raspberries (or any other berry, or a mixture)
2 cups sugar
Juice of half a lemon (or to taste, but you need some acid to make this all work)

Wash and prep your berries (hull and halve strawberries, destem blueberries, etc.). Add them to a small saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice.

Equal parts fruit and sugar... I like this already.

Equal parts fruit and sugar… I like this already.

Bring it all to a gentle boil, and lightly smash your fruit. You can leave a few whole chunks, but you need to smoosh the fruit to release its pectin. Boil, stirring frequently, until the jam begins to thicken. This could take about 10 minutes—the riper and sweeter your fruit, the longer it will take.

See how it's getting all gooey and jammy?

See how it’s getting all gooey and jammy?

If you think it’s jammy enough, you can test it by spooning a bit onto a plate and sticking it in the freezer. Once it’s cool, you can tell whether it’s ready by tilting the plate—if the jam runs right off, it’s not done; if it sort of goozes the way jam should, then you’ve got yourself jam. Carefully pour the hot jam into very clean jars—this recipe makes less than 1 pint. Mama uses a Ball jar and waits to see if the seal pops shut (a time-honored tradition in my grandma’s kitchen, she tells me). Regardless of whether they seal, Mama waits until the jars are cool to the touch then puts them in the freezer. No special canning equipment or know-how required. Unfrozen, the jam will last in the fridge at least a month, but really, could you wait that long?

Note: Some people use pectin when they make jam. Mama says it’s a natural ingredient in fruit anyway, so she doesn’t add it to hers. Even though it ensures your jam will “gel” every time, she likes the simplicity of measuring sugar and fruit in equal proportions. And her jam is usually thick enough to spread between cake layers. Usually. If you decide to use pectin, she suggests buying the no-sugar-added kind, following the package directions for the amount to use, and decreasing the amount of sugar you use in this recipe. (You’ll still want to add sugar, even with this kind of pectin.) Be sure to boil your jam to activate the pectin—but not too long, or the pectin will start to break down!