“My country, ‘tis of thee. Sweet land of liberty.“ So go the first two lines of the beloved American anthem. Starting with the festive bunting of Memorial Day and leading up to the flag-waving of Independence Day, I always seem to have patriotic songs in my head: Sousa marches, The Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and particularly My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.
Marsha says that my sweet tooth may be getting the better of me, and she has a good case. She knows that the “Sweet land of liberty” lyric makes me think of summer pies, cakes, and ice cream made from the bounty of fruit from our local farms. I can’t get enough.
Strawberries are the first sign that the local fruit season is well underway. Despite the congestion along the coast, there is still space for working farms in the Connecticut hills growing fruit and berries for pick-your-own or to sell at farmers markets. Recently I’ve seen stunning berries from Dzen Farms at the Gazy Brother’s market stands.
When it gets warm in June and the solstice draws near, I get visions of strawberry temptations: pies, layer cakes, shortcakes, and preserves along with beautifully dressed tarts, both large and small, in pastry shop showcases.
Jones Family Farm in Shelton is the close-by destination for strawberries. Pick-your-own or pick up a basket of just-picked. While you’re there, be sure to visit the winery. Reservations are suggested for picking or tasting, particularly on the weekends.
Blueberries come next in the roll call of local fruits, but there can be a gap between the berry crops. Fortunately the Georgia Peach Truck steps in to fill the space. Peaches are grown in Connecticut, but they’re harvested later in the season. Now is the peak season in the Peach State.
The Georgia Peach Truck runs an express delivery of just-picked ready-to-ripen peaches directly from Dickey’s Farms in Musella, GA to regular stops up the I-95 corridor. The peaches ripen to perfection in three or four days.
With roughly 60 in the box, it takes a little planning to mature them as needed. We ripen some for eating, slicing for shortcake, or baking into cobbler and crisps. We gift some around the neighborhood and put up golden-hued intensely-flavored preserves that will brighten the dark and un-fruited days of winter.
After the 4th of July when things settle down to a summer routine, I start calling the Jones Farm hotline 203-929-8425 to track the blueberry crop. Farmer Terry Jones posts a daily bulletin with the crop status and picking conditions.
The blueberries in the supermarket (like me) are getting plumper. They’re growing to the size that raspberries used to be. But locally-grown blubs are smaller, firmer, packed with flavor and pleasingly tart. Maine is famous for their wild blueberries, but Connecticut berries are just fine. Pick your own, or look for them at the markets. Don’t miss out!
I can eat blueberries by the handful, but they’re made for muffins and cakes. They’re natural partners with lemon and frequently seen with poppy seeds. Our neighbor, Lee, asserts that Marsha made the best blueberry pie he’s ever had. That was a while back and since then, she’s been resting on her laurels.
Cherry season runs parallel with blueberries. I find their snappy texture, dark polished-red color, and rich flavor irresistible. During cherry season, I travel with my cherry pitter in case good fortune strikes. Eating them out of the bag and spitting the pits is the best, but they can be lightly stewed and served over ice cream or as a compote.
My son-in-law Cameron dabbles in ice cream making. I know he’s had success with strawberries and peaches. I wonder if he’s tried blueberry or cherry? Homemade ice cream made with perfectly ripened local fruit can’t be beat.
Chef Jeremy Seawall knows what I’m talking about. In his cookbook, The New England Kitchen, he includes recipes for summer berry shortcake, cherry cobbler, and a rustic free-form blueberry tart. My kind of summer sweets!
Stone fruits come next. Connecticut is not known for its peaches, plums, and nectarines, but they’re worth seeking out. Look for them in August at the farmers markets. Lyman Orchards in Middlefield or Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford are great to visit and pick or buy.
I’ve been known to overload on summer fruit. When that happens, Ellyn’s Rotten Fruit Cake comes to my rescue. Mix up the batter, toss in almost any fruit and a delightful cake comes out of the oven. It’s like magic.
In 1831 When Samuel Francis Smith, minister, journalist, and author wrote the lyric, “sweet land of liberty,” in Andover, MA I don’t think he contemplated such a literal interpretation as mine. But I hope he would have understood.
Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.