By the gate of our garden, alongside the little road that leads to the house, there is a wild patch of land that we seldom visit. It’s filled with thorns and thistles, ferns and more distressingly, snakes. The dogs like to go there to hunt for rabbits or mice and once we found Sky, a fox terrier bitch, under the trunk of a dead tree in this wild spot, deep into labor – we were just in time. We call this mystical place Eden, because of the snakes I suppose. In Eden there are sometimes blackberries and we can pick them from the safety of our garden without having to enter. We only take the ones on the higher branches in case the lower ones have been soiled by foxes or other animals. Gaïa, my youngest is absolutely crazy about blackberries and has stained so many dresses with her sticky little fingers. At least the stains are of a lovely color. It’s a case of endless frustration for her that she’s not allowed to pick the lower berries and as Eden doesn’t have so many berries they were soon gone. She found that even more frustrating.
A mind of a two-year old is endlessly fascinating and we noticed that Gaïa, who usually is just glued to me, starting venturing about, trying to get out of the garden. The dogs have a route and Gaïa found it. She was drawn to the forest as if her mind was telling her that even if the berries here were gone, there must be more elsewhere. About ten days ago she was particularly insistent, so Oddur and I took her on a little walk, to satisfy her curiosity. I was hopeful and brought a basket, if not for blackberries then perhaps a few cèpes? We didn’t go very far, only a few hundred meters, and we didn’t find much of anything. Gaïa just couldn’t understand it, she had been so certain. It was a lovely walk though and the dogs enjoyed it more than anyone. I love to walk amongst the dogs when the evening sun hits the forest and their enthusiastic running surrounds us with a cloud of powdery earth.
Hudson felt sorry for his sister, he knows what it’s like to want things badly. He always wants something and he usually gets it. This time would be no different, he was on the case. His father encouraged him, “I’m sure there must be a few more in the garden, you just have to look”, he said in a serious tone meaning that Hudson should not give up easily. And Hudson looked and found. He found an enormous amount to be exact. He brought back a whole bowl. He said there were more and he was right. About ten bowls worth. He had found them in the opposite end of the garden, as far away from Eden as possible. In the wettest part of the garden, which turns to a lake in winter. I’m sure they weren’t there last year, or maybe they were, who knows.
This story, if it’s even a story, reminds me of a novel by the Icelandic Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness. A farmer goes looking for a promised land and paradise but doesn’t succeed and returns home where he finds everything he was looking for. The book is called Paradise Reclaimed (Paradísarheimt) and is a reminder that the things we are looking for are very often just under our noses. Paradise is a state of mind or in this case a whole lot of blackberries.
The question was, what to do with all the blackberries? It’s still summer (yes, don’t argue with me on that) so ice-cream seemed ideal. I love a good soufflé so that was an option too. A simple soufflé with blackberry ice cream, or a blackberry soufflé with vanilla ice-cream. In the end I made it all with blackberries. The ice-cream and soufflé took a bit of time so I had to come up with something quick for the main course. I was inspired by my walk in the forest and that’s what I wanted, flavors of the forest. Luckily I had just bought some figs and girolles and had some shortcrust pastry ready to be used. I love Rocamadour cheese (a lovely creamy goat’s cheese and small in size) and thought it would be a great match with Bayonne ham and a succulent slice of fig. So I made a cheese pastry with all these ingredients, or should I say a fromage en croûte, surrounded by delicious girolles en persillade (sautéed with butter, parsley and garlic). This dish is just like a walk in the woods.
Talking of paradise, my husband has just found his. For him, paradise is a dog called Humfri. Or more precisely Glendraterra Humfri Bogart. He had seen a photo of this dog when he was 4 months old and I don’t think he’s let a day pass since without mentioning him. He says it’s the most beautiful Smooth Fox Terrier in the world and therefore the most beautiful dog in the world. Not a small title. His previous owners, a lovely couple called Jenny and Roger of the Glendraterra kennel in England, were finally ready to let him go. He’s an English Champion and has star quality in spades, just like the Humphrey he’s named after. A true terrier, full of energy with a keen interest in the ladies. He’s already been to Paris and Bordeaux and is settling into life in Médoc.
The other night at dinner my husband was telling the kids that a hundred years from now the families of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be sitting like us, having dinner and they too will have a dog like Humfri under the table – his descendants. I think that’s a lovely thought.
Maybe they’ll be having one of my recipes?
Rocamadour en-croûte with figs, Bayonne ham and girolles en persillade (cheese pastry with Bayonne ham and figs)
4 little rocamadour cheese, 35 g each (You can use any of your favourite cheese, I would recommend camembert or a rich creamy goat’s cheese)
2 slices Bayonne ham
300 g/ 2/3 pounds pâte brisée (shortcrust pastry)
250 g/ 1/2 pound girolles mushrooms
1 egg, for glazing
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp parsley, chopped finely
1 garlic clove, minced
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven 425°F/210°C
Roll out the pâte brisée and cut into circles (4&1/2 inches/ 11 cm wide). Slice fig into 4 slices.
Place ½ slice Bayonne ham, then the cheese, then a slice of fig, leaving ½ inch of edge.
Brush the edges with water and place another circle on top. Seal the edges firmly. Decorate as you wish (little leaves for me).
Brush with a glaze of beaten egg and place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until golden.
Meanwhile, prepare the girolles mushrooms.
Slice the remaining figs in small quarters. In a sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter on a medium heat. Cook the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes, season with salt & pepper. Add the minced garlic, figs and cook for 1 more minutes, then add the chopped parsley and cook for 30 more seconds.
Place the pastry in the center of the plate, and scatter the mushrooms around. Serve immediately.
400 g/ 2 cups blackberries
75 g/ 6 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp water
250 ml/ 1 cup heavy cream
Rinse blackberries and drain. In a saucepan, place blackberries, sugar, 2 tablespoons water and lemon juice. Cook for 10-15 minutes on a medium to low heat, stirring frequently. Pass half of the mixture through a sieve so remove pips (or all of the mixture if you don’t like pips). Set aside and leave to cool completely. Then place in the refrigerator for a least 1 hour.
Combine blackberries mixture with the heavy cream. Switch your ice-cream maker on, pour in cream mixture. Churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.
Transfer ice-cream to an air-tight container and place in the freezer for a few hours or overnight.
(serves 4 medium ramekins)
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites
65 g/ 1/3 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
400 g/ 2 cups blackberries (keep about 20 aside to freeze for garnishing)
2 tbsp orange blossom water
½ tbsp cornstarch
Preheat the oven to 210°C/ 425°F
Butter the ramekins and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Place in the refrigerator until usage.
In a saucepan, cook blackberries with 2 tbsp sugar for 5 minutes on a medium heat. Mash blackberries with a fork and pass through a sieve. Add 2 tbsp orange blossom water. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time and set aside until cooled.
Whisk egg whites till they hold soft peaks, gradually adding ½ tbsp cornstarch and 60 g sugar.
Fold in the blackberries mixture to the egg whites. Fill the ramekins to the brim with the mixture and level off the surface with a spatula.
Place ramekins on a baking tray in the center of the oven and bake at 210° C/ 425°F for 11-14 minutes (depending on oven strength), or until well-risen and golden.
Sprinkle with icing sugar, place a few frozen blackberries on top of soufflés and serve immediately.