I have this thing about fruit. If it's fresh - and good, you know, the kind that simply glows with flavor, zings on your tongue - then all I can do is eat it fresh and raw, out of hand. Cooking it feels like I'm spoiling the whole point. Jams, pies, compotes - they're more for middling fruit or the frozen stuff, fruit that could use a little sugar and warmth to coax out its juicy flavors. But if you've got that one perfect, bursting peach or that handful of raspberries simply alive with the flavor of summer, I say eat as is and throw away your recipes. Life's too short.
But then the New York Times goes and publishes an article about an adorably-named dish called "flummery" and it's all I can do to keep myself from racing to the store, because, well, flummery! I am powerless in the presence of English puddings. Flummery and fool, syllabub and spotted dick, trifle and treacle - I don't know what it is about those goofy names, but Jane Grigson and Laurie Colwin always work me up into a state when they write about those suet crusts and dried fruits and ginger-studded whatsits. If anything can get me to ignore my self-imposed rule of not cooking any wondrous summer fruit, I suppose the English (Welsh!) can. Besides, could you say no to a softly set fruit pudding served with cream?
What happened next will probably have several people related to me by blood or (common) law in impolite giggles.
I went to the store to buy a quart of blackberries to make said flummery and proceeded to spend HALF AN HOUR trying to figure out how many pints make a quart. Dry pints. Dry quart. Wait, do I even mean pints? I mean those little clam shell plastic things that raspberries and blackberries are sold in these days when you're at the grocery store and not at the farmer's market where you should be and where the farmers would not only know the answer to your questions, they would roll their eyes - well-deservedly - at you to boot, guaranteeing that your shame would mean you'd never forget the thing about pints and quarts again. I suppose it will come as no surprise that no one in the store could help me. But who am I to get indignant?
I bought four of those little plastic shell containers full of blackberries with crossed fingers, hoping that the internet would help me. It didn't. Either there's paltry information out there about how, exactly, to calculate the weight of a dry quart or I am a bigger idiot than I ever thought. (It's quite possible. I have, let's say, issues with some of the more precise details of mathematics.) In the end, I measured out a little more than four cups of blackberries, popped the rest in my mouth as a soothing mental analgesic, and decided to stop worrying.
First of all, blackberries are delicious, people. I never buy them, but goodness, I should do so more often. And hot blackberries, stewed into submission with sugar and then gently gelled with cornstarch? Are a floral, fragrant, gorgeously purple dream. A few comments: I didn't strain the berries as directed to in the original recipe - I like my fruit desserts chunky (remind me to tell you about rote Gruetze one day). Also, I found the flummery far too sweet. (If it turns out that I was wrong about my quart measurements, then I take that back). I'd advise you to use less sugar - try 1/2 cup or 2/3, if you've got a sweet tooth. Remember that you might be serving this with heavy cream, which has its own sweetness and is usually served with berries that don't have even the merest sprinkling of sugar on them.
I ate the flummery one night with cream and found the whole thing sort of powerful and overbearing - too heavy, too sweet. The next night, though, I pulled the flummery straight from the cold fridge and ate it with plain Liberte. And that's when the angels sang. It was wonderful. Something had definitely happened to those berries over the night, and the acidity of the yogurt was the perfect foil. We gobbled up the rest like a bunch of 19th century English urchins and practically banged our spoons on the table for more.
Serves 6 to 8
1 quart fresh blackberries
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar, depending on your sweet tooth
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water
Juice of half a lemon
Heavy cream or plain yogurt, for serving
1. Combine the berries, sugar and ½ cup hot water in a saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the mixture is liquid. Bring to a boil.
3. Meanwhile, blend the cornstarch with the cold water or milk. Stir this into the boiling berries. Add the lemon juice. Simmer for 1 minute. Serve with heavy cream.