I will never cease to admire the clockwork that ticks the patterns of the seasons in the North East. The Memorial Day tick marks the beginning of the summer, the time of endless grilling, slushies, trips to the beaches, and melting hot asphalt. The Labor Day tick makes the summer go away; in a split of a second, almost like a switch, tick-tock, we wake up and put the sweaters on as if summer never existed. Tick-tock, and soon after Thanksgiving, somewhere on the road towards Christmas, the first frost arrives, trailed by the winds, the snow, the ice, the storms. Soon after Christmas the first real frost turns into the dark, persistent second frost of wear-you-out never ending chill, which lasts until about Presidents Day, when tick-tock, you can feel the spring back in the air; its not quite there yet, not quite tangible, yet you know that the change is about to happen. And change lingers for a while until April Fools Day, when all of a sudden, the Nature sends out its powers again. Tick-tock.
My New York City market lives and breathes with the ticks of the invisible clock. My market is like an emperor, issuing orders with the rhythm of the clock; as seasons come and go the produce and I follow. No matter how cold it might have been, no matter how long the winter was, tick-tock and on April Fools Day the market is green again and the colors of just bloomed magnolias pop-up against the clear blue sky, and the stalls tempt me with the scents of blossoms and fresh grass, and the produce joins in a cheerful tune, calling on everyone to leave their habitat and worship the new season. And then the Memorial Day tick happens and spring is ordered to leave the area, the ramps and sorrels disappear and the scent of blossoms turns into exotic summer fragrance. By now, the voices have matured; from delicate spring sopranos they've become alto, louder, fuller, more assertive. The produce has gathered the courage to speak up, and so they do, and with the fourth of July tick they become loud, they become opinionated, they stand up and soon resonate in a brilliant lush summer tenor, splashing the colors of the sun all around. Until the Labor Day, when early fall takes over and the emperor changes its clothes again.
This clockwork pattern is one of my favorite things about living in the North East. After two decades spent on the left side of the ocean and the right side of American continent, this clockwork has become an essential part of me, almost like a parallel heartbeat. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Then imagine my surprise when I took the stroll along the Union Square market and realized that in all these years, all these decades on the left side of the ocean and the right side of American continent there was a pattern I failed to notice. I almost missed it this time too, excited about the explosion of berries around me -- one of my favorite patterns of all; it is around fourth of July that the first berries of the season arrive to the market, and jewels in all colors spill over the stalls and sidewalks: blackberries, blueberries, red raspberries and white raspberries and dark ones too, red currants and white currants, gooseberries. And again I failed to notice, too consumed with their beauty, and it was really only when I bought them all and began to arrange them in my basket, gently, gently, because these are tender little souls: the blue ones first -- blueberries and raspberries in the color of the night shadows, and then the red ones -- strawberries, raspberries and red currants, and finally the glossy white currants, it hit me only then...
It is how Mother Nature of the North East celebrates the Fourth of July!
Seven Berry Clafoutis
Needless to say, you do not have to use all seven berries. It's a rare blessing to have them all in one basket. But try to use three, and at least one tart. The tart berry is the important one -- makes for a whole lot of difference.
* 5 oz granulated sugar
* 4 oz general-purpose flour
* 4 medium eggs
* 5 tbsp milk
* 1 tbsp vanilla extract * 3/4 cup strawberries
* 1/2 cup blueberries
* 1/2 cup raspberries
* 1/2 cup black raspberries (or blackberries)
* 1/2 cup red and white currants
* 1/2 cup goosberries
Wash and dry all the berries. Remove the currants from the stem. Gently remove the stems from the gooseberries and cut the gooseberries in half. If you are using tiny strawberries leave them alone, otherwise cut the strawberries in half (or even quarters if you are using a large variety).
Preheat the oven to 325F convection (350F regular bake).
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar and milk until creamy and pale in color. Add the vanilla extract. Sift in the flour and mix until fully combined.
Beat the egg whites until hard peaks form. Gently fold the whites into the cake batter.
Grease and flour 9-inch round pie dish. Pour the batter into the pan and spread it with spatula. Arrange the fruit on top of the batter. (It will be a lot of fruit, and you will have to push in some pieces to make room for the new ones.)
Bake for about 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. It’s very important not to over-bake the clafoutis, so watch carefully. It will be done when it is barely done -- the crust will bubble up and cover the fruit partially, but the center should be moist.
Remove the pan from the oven, let it cool completely before serving.