I suppose it would make sense to go South. The weather would be warmer. The wildlife, more diverse. The scenery, more exotic. The drive, no longer. Possibly shorter. I hear Florida is only twelve hours. Also, the water would be less cold.
Considerably less cold.
When it became clear that home just wasn't in this year's summer cards (huge honking *sniff*), a return to Maine seemed the only right thing. Maine isn't home, isn't any substitute. No mountains, no family, no deep ruts and grooves, etched into a place, over a lifetime.
The landscape is thick with green's deeper shades, bristling with rust-footed, inky-wigged pines. The light is measured, muted and calm, filtered through forests and salt-smudged atmosphere. The air is that smart saline maritime stuff, blowy and briny and pungently fresh. Daytime is pleasant; nighttime, cool. And there's ocean. Ubiquitous ocean. Abundant everywhere excellent ocean. There for the asking. What a system.
And even as I brace for the shock and awe of borderline-bitter waters, I think: keep it all, the hot skies and bleached beaches and colorful sun-soaked Southern coastline. West or East, Washington or Maine, these mellow Northern understated shores are very, very hard to beat.
Also, there are berries.
Of our penchant for heading not South on our summer sojourns, but North, there's this convenient side effect: we wind up chasing berry season. In years past, we've polished off Ohio's last berries, then touched down just in time for Seattle's season, marking our days with strawberry stains and countless raspberry-capped fingers. Maine runs, it seems, on a similar schedule. Hoot!
(Those garnet-black beauties, up there, are Ohio black raspberries, devoured one day before departure. Whether at home or on the road, we tend to mark all our days with berries.)
One week into our twelve-day stay, we've inhaled eight or ten quarts, easy, eating strawberries every which way. Off the stem. Under yogurt. Inside crepes. Over ice cream. Indeed, around cream, every which way.
Berries and cream hardly need a PR team, nor, for that matter, a recipe. I am here, rather, as instigator, as rabid booster, as excuse. (As if you need one.) To get hold of some fragile, vivid local berries. Straw-, rasp-, black-, marion-: pick your prefix. Whatever's beaming. The real local deal. To do nothing more than wash, slice, and sugar. Also, nothing less. Because even the nearest of nearby berries benefit from a restrained flick of sweet. Particularly if you let them sit a quarter hour. Mingle. Make small talk. Macerate. To get hold of some honest and true heavy cream. The kind that sits between liquid and solid. The kind that expires within days, not months. Pasteurized is fine. Ultra's best avoided. Local dairies tend to be rock stars.
And then, to combine the two. Sliced berries, cold cream. Be all, end all.
There are certainly fancier things a person can do with fresh berries, more classy, more complex. One can add bells, batters, whistles, crusts, crumbs, frills, fuss, but why? In the end, few—none?—are better than basic berries and cream. Few are even close. If it's been awhile, re-acquaint yourself.
When (if) you ever tire of pouring glugs of cold treacly cream; when (if) the thrill of cream softly sweetened and whipped and dolloped ever dims; there is this, one of my favorite variations on the theme of berries and cream.
Sometimes, while whipping the cream, I'll tip in a few spoons full of crème fraîche or sour cream. It lightens and grounds the cream, simultaneously, a neat trick which makes so sense on the page, but which soars and swells, on the spoon. Amended with crème fraîche's rich mellow tart, whipped cream gains soul, gains gravitas. It softens the berries' singular sweet, settles them into themselves, somehow.
And as I dip-and-scoop, dip-and-swoop, I find myself thinking on this: that for all the strawberry pies and tarts and cakes and ice creams and sorbets and such I've labored over over the years, the basic one-two of berries and cream is very, very hard to beat.
Sugared Berries + Crème Fraîche Whipped Cream
1 quart red, ripe strawberries
1-2 Tbs granulated sugar (to taste)
Rinse, stem, and thickly slice strawberries. Add sugar, stir gently to coat, and set aside 15 minutes, to macerate.
Crème Fraîche Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
2-3 Tbs sour cream or crème fraîche
2 Tbs granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
Place cream in a medium, deep bowl, and whisk until cream has roughly doubled in volume and has just begun to thicken. Add crème fraîche, sugar and vanilla, if using. Continue whisking, until soft peaks form. Serve piled high on sugared berries, at every opportunity.