Now that it finally feels like summer, I’m feeling nostalgic; I’ve just sent my eldest on a trip to visit her Grandmother in Washington. While we grew up in California, we’d spend a lot of our summers up there; taking long road trips to finally
get there. I thinks its where my mom always felt most at home and now she’s made it her home.
Memories of being crammed in a car with my mom, grandmother and my two agitating brothers for the long trip from California to Washiington come to mind. Playing “eye-spy,” finding the alphabet in the road signs, and fighting -mostly with my older brother’s ever-extending air guitar- only to hear him say (with one finger pointing right in my eye), “I’m not touching you.”
These road trips were obviously some of my mother’s favorite things to do with her mom, but for us kids that excitement ran out just passed the wind mills in Tracy. Mom and Grandma Lee both smoked Terryton Lights and made sure to light one up anytime our fighting in the backseat got to be more than they could handle. Cracking the window only enough for the smoke to whiffle out and right back in. I attribute that one-inch crack in the window to my asthma today moreso than the smoke, because maybe if they’d just rolled the windows all the way down, I wouldn’t have lost my appetite on second hand smoke.
While much of those memories are full of rancor and sarcasm, the truth is they’re also some of my most cherished childhood memories. Although I desperately needed to know how much longer till we get there, my grandmother’s child-like thrill to show us kids the salmon swimming up stream, or an eagle in the sky or the water falls tucked in between a mountain of large trees just off the roadside was utterly contagious once we unmangled our legs, hair and barf bags from the car. I still remember her story of Donner’s Pass and the people who had to eat one another to stay alive in the freezing snow. She’d tell us why California was called the gold coast and talk about the history of gold miners, women in covered wagons, farming, Indian Life and loggers. Later in life when I saw The Grapes of Wrath, I thought that this must’ve been what it was like for my grandmtoher, always moving, looking for work to survive. A Norwegian father, Cherokee and Belgian mother, fitting in where they could.
She taught us all the old American folk songs like “Old Suzanna,” and “She’ll Be Coming Around That Mountain.” Sometimes I will see something and it will remind me of a time before I was born, her time, but I’d also feel as though it was intrinsically my time too; I was sitting in her log cabin with her; an invisible witness.
My foot taps. I begin to sing and now I’m completely transported right back to being seven years old, sitting in my mother’s blue Oldsmobile, and the year is 1976.
My grandmother’s sister Anne lived in Washington. She had a large forest of blackberries along the side of her house and what she did with those was truly American, truly a taste of summer and any pastry chef today would envy her skills in the kitchen. She baked blackberry pies for us and served them hot with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and a glass of milk.
I was a tenacious little kid when it came to sweets and my brothers, not being bashful themselves, would clammor around her kitchen until that pie was ready. The entire room brightened up with the aroma of butter and crisping dough and a sweet scent of blackberries tickling just under our noses. She’d pull the pie out, set it on a little counter. The crust brown and flaky with bubles of purple goop stained around the pie-hole.
“Where’s the ice cream?”
“Get the ice cream!”
“Wait children it has to cool.”
Auntie Anne would have to back us up against a playpen and her dark scratchy sofa where we’d wait to grab a seat at large the table. Sewing patterns, knitting needles, yarn and newspapers we’re swooshed aside.
“Plates! Get the plates and forks!”
“We’ve got the plates and the forks and the ice cream. Have a seat.”
One bite is all it took, All those hours in the car, the fights with Michael and Danny, the long-winded baseball announcers blaring through the speakers, my mother’s cigarette smoke and grandma’s cracked windows suddenly evaporated.
This next recipe is dedicated to the Berg women of Washngton and their ability to love us children unconditionally . I believe Auntie Anne and Grandma Lee would be proud of this ice cream. I’d call it Blackberry Pie but there is no crust in the cream. But feel free to serve it over your own favorite pie.
The sweet-tartness of the berries balances out the richness of the vanilla custard. We loved it here at home and it’s now one of our absolute favorites.
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Blackberry + Vanilla Custard Ice Cream with Chocolate Shavings
2 pints fresh blackberries
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extra (or vanilla bean)
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 cup sugar
5 large egg yolks (I saved the egg whites for breakfast)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup dark chocolate shavings (I love the bulk chocolates at Fairway and today I went with one from Spain).
Add blackberries to a medium saucepan with 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla and lemon juice. Cook over low heat, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes. Drain using a fine mesh strainer, pressing berries to extract as much juice as possible. I do this by pressing the berries firmly into the strainer with a rubber spatula and this takes a good fifteen minutes. You’ll be surprised how much you can scrape off the underside of the strainer too. Set aside.
Heat the half-and-half and 1 cup sugar in a separate saucepan over low heat. Turn off heat when mixture is totally heated and sugar is dissolved.
Add heavy cream to a separate bowl.
Beat egg yolks by hand or with an electric mixer until yolks are pale yellow and slightly thick.
Temper the egg yolks by slowly drizzling in 1 1/2 cups of hot half-and-half mixture, whisking constantly. After that, pour the egg yolk and half-and-half mixture into the pan containing the rest of the half-and-half mixture. Cook over low to medium-low heat (depending on how hot your stove gets) until quite thick, stirring constantly. Drain custard using a fine mesh strainer.
Then pour into the bowl with the cream. Stir to combine. Add blackberry juice puree to the custard mixture and stir.
Chill mixture completely in the refrigerator.
Pour the mixture into your in an ice cream maker until thick- about 20 – 25 minutes.
The last few minutes add the chocolate shavings so they get nice and mixed in.
Place container in freezer to harden for an additional two hours.
Then serve and enjoy with someone you love. Create some good memories too!