The party goes on

Taking red currants out of the freezer for Red Currant Meringue Pie on January 1 is one of the great pleasures of being a gardener. The moment when I poured the frozen pearl-like red currants out of the bag, all the hard work of getting them into that bag was forgotten, although last year was not a good season for currants. I had less than two pounds, which makes today’s pie even more precious. The recipe can be found in my cookbook Spoonfuls of Germany.

While I dread the long, cold winter on our mountaintop in northeast Pennsylvania, I do not wish to live in a place where gardening is possible year round. Each time I wash store-bought lettuce, I think how wonderful it will be to have our own tender greens again in the spring. I would not want to trade the physical and mental 5-month break from gardening, and my looking forward to the new gardening season, for a non-stop crop of lettuce.

Gardening is like a party, where the anticipation and the preparations are part of the fun. Deciding what to grow is like drawing up the guest list. Making a crop rotation plan is like determining the seating order; just like people, not all plants get along with each other. Selecting and ordering seeds is like planning the menu and going shopping. After all is set up and ready, waiting for the wondrous moment when the seedlings emerge is like waiting for the guests to arrive. When they do, all you can do is make sure they feel comfortable and stay as long as you want them to. Enjoying the harvest, fresh from the garden or months later in frozen or canned form, is an ongoing feast!

Lists and leftovers

First I felt a little silly putting up a detailed list with the freezer content to keep track of each bag I take out. But this is not my personal listmania. It saves me from digging around and getting frostbite on my hands. This list, and whatever else needs to be used up, often dictates what I cook.

A quart of milk with a passed “sell by” date (even after living in the US for 13 years I still don’t understand how this date tells you the actual expiration date…), and several bags of frozen red currants inspired me to make this lemon trifle. I used a mix of blueberries and currants, but only blueberries, or a mix of blueberries and raspberries, will taste good as well. Instead of drizzling the ladyfingers with the usual sherry I used homemade black currant liqueur (cassis) but of course store-bought cassis will be just fine.

Berry Trifle with Lemon Custard

12 ladyfingers

3-4 tablespoons cassis

14 ounces fresh or frozen blueberries and/or red currants

3-4 tablespoons sugar, or to taste

Lemon custard:

2 organic lemons

4 cups milk (2% or whole milk)

4 egg yolks

¾ cup + 1 tablespoon sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1. Cut the ladyfingers into 1-inch pieces and spread them in a decorative glass serving dish with a wide bottom. Drizzle with cassis.

2. Put the berries in a small saucepan and briefly cook so they pop and release their juices. Sugar to taste and cool slightly, then spread over the ladyfingers.

3. For the lemon custard, zest and juice the lemons. Slowly bring the milk and the lemon zest to a boil.

4. Mix the egg yolks with the sugar and the cornstarch to a smooth consistency without any lumps.

5. Strain the hot milk through a fine sieve. Discard the lemon zest.

6. Add a small amount of the hot milk to the egg yolks and whisk to incorporate. Add some more milk and whisk again. The mixing of the hot milk and egg yolks must be done very slowly and gradually so the eggs won’t curd.

7. After all the egg yolks and milk have been mixed, pour it in a saucepan and slowly bring to a gentle boil, whisking constantly.  Cook and whisk until the custard thickens.

8. Remove from the heat. Add the lemon juice and whisk until cooled slightly. Slowly pour the custard over the berries so that the layer won’t be disturbed and the berries won’t rise to the top. Cool.

9. Cover with plastic foil and chill several hours.

Makes 8 servings

Ice-cold resolution

Each time I make my berry frozen yogurt, I promise myself to use the ice-cream maker more often instead of lazily grabbing a pint of ice cream or sorbet in the store, which tastes overly sweet after eating this.

The most important ingredient is a good berry concentrate (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, red and/or black currants if you have them). I cook the fruit for a few minutes until they pop and release all their juices, then strain them through a fine sieve or cheesecloth.

It is important that all the ingredients are very well chilled before mixing them. Because homemade ice cream and frozen yogurt does not contain any stabilizer, it melts very quickly.

Berry Frozen Yogurt

1½ cups chilled unsweetened berry concentrate

½ cup heavy cream

2 cups sour cream

1 cup sugar

1. In a bowl mix all ingredients well with a wire whisk until sugar dissolves.

2. Process the frozen yogurt in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. I have an ice-cream maker whose bowl needs to be frozen so when it is warm in the kitchen, I carry the ice-cream maker down to the cooler basement. That prevents the bowl from warming up and improves the quality.

3. Fill frozen yogurt in plastic containers with tight lids and place them in the freezer until solidly frozen.

Makes 1 generous quart

Currants vs. currants

Red currants

After my currant post my sister-in-law asked me why dried currants (the tiny black stuff that’s added to cakes and other pastries) aren’t tart, and whether sugar was added to them. Interesting, I did hear that question before so I need to clarify.

Dried currants are actually from a small seedless grape, the Corinth grape (in German they are called Korinthen so no confusion there). Currants as in “black currants” or “red currants” are the yummy tart berries on the photo above.