Honoring Food & Family
August 5, 2008
My grandfather is many things. He’s patient, a spectacular whistler, quick with a smile-wink-laugh, and eminently wise. He’s a Swede, an outdoorsman, a sports fan and, like everyone else in my family, a good cook. He’s also a gardener who coaxes a variety of seeds and seedlings into a dazzling array of vegetables and fruits and flowers every year. He starts in February, in his cedar-sided greenhouse. As he lives only about an hour south of Canada, this generally means he has to shovel a path through the snow from his back door to the greenhouse. But his shelves of gardening manuals and seed catalogs let on that he’s been working on the garden—even if only mentally—for longer than that.
The weeks of effort pay off on a weekend like the last one. For two days, while we were there, temperatures on Minnesota’s North Shore creeped into the 80s and the sun shone down on his rows of beets, his hills of potatoes, his blooming heads of romaine, his patch of zucchini, his tufts of carrot greens, his shoots of chives and his tomato cages, which currently house still-green orbs. But it was the raspberry bushes that demanded attention last weekend, limbs heavy with red fruit, ready for the plucking.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
On Saturday morning, I was thrilled when he handed me a pail and asked me to help him pluck the berries. For about a decade, he’s had limited use of his right foot, the result of a surgical error that will make me cry if I think too hard about it. But, one of the most self-sufficient people I’ve ever met, he wasn’t asking for my assistance because he needed my help. He knew I’d be tickled (that’s the word he’d use) to do it. And he was right.
He assigned me the left half of the bushes and he handled the balance, him on his gardening stool and me bent at the waste. The raspberries were so ripe, they’d fall off with only the slightest touch, landing into the quickly-filling pail like a slowly rising magenta tide. His whistling laid a beautiful soundtrack and a breeze reminded us that beautiful Lake Superior was no more than a half-mile away. The smells of bacon frying wafted out the open kitchen window, along with the sounds of laughter and the clangs of a breakfast table being set inside. We made quick work of the raspberries (bacon is a powerful motivator), but they were moments I’ll treasure always.
My grandma set a bowl of the fresh-picked berries on the breakfast table, along with a platter of pancakes, a steaming mug of syrup, a heap of her famous cinnamon rolls and, of course, the plate of bacon. Theirs is a kitchen table that is always bountiful: with food, people and conversation. As we feasted, we plotted out the day ahead, surmised about Brett Favre’s future and rejoiced Liriano’s return to the Twins, and recollected memorable shots from the round of golf we played the day before (he’s a good golfer too, my grandpa; musn’t forget that!). Everyone marveled at the size, the sweetness, the color of the berries. I can’t be sure, but I think I saw a shimmer of pride in my grandpa, an entirely humble man.
Later, my grandma loaded the berries we didn’t eat at breakfast into a Cool Whip container (Cool Whip, along with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, are the staples of what I call Minnesota Lutheran cooking; the former swirled into all manners of desserts and the latter binding hot dishes of all shapes and sizes) and pressed it into my hands. You’ll use these, she announced.
I spent a good part of our drive home on Sunday considering how exactly I would use what seemed to me an edible treasure, tucked into the cooler in the backseat. I spent another portion of the drive (it was a 9-hour drive; there were many portions) flipping through food magazines. In a happy coincidence, Saveur had a recipe for a simple raspberry sorbet (Am I the only one who hears Prince when she reads that recipe title? Perhaps I’ve overdosed on Minnesota.). It was a stripped down recipe and included raspberries two ways: pureed and frozen to make the sorbet itself, but also left whole as a last-minute mix-in. It seemed a worthy use for my haul. In a couple nights, we’ll have scraped the sorbet container clean. It will be gone, just like my grandparents’ garden in the winter. Like all of us, eventually. Which is why I think it’s so important to honor our food and our families and to do the two things simultaneously as often as possible.
Adapted from Saveur
Yield: About 5 cups
5 cups fresh raspberries, divided
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lime juice
pinch fine-grain sea salt
In a 2-quart sauce pan, bring 2 cups water and 1 cup sugar to a boil, stirring to dissolve. Reduce heat to low and simmer, without stirring, to make a syrup, for 5 minutes. Pour the syrup into a medium bowl, stir in the vanilla and transfer to the freezer to let chill for 15 minutes.
Puree 4 cups raspberries with the syrup, the lime juice and a pinch of salt in a blender or food processor until smooth. Scrape the puree through a fine sieve into a bowl; discard the seeds.
Pour the strained mixture into an ice cream maker. Freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions until almost set but still a little slushy, about 25 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup of raspberries and continue freezing in the ice cream maker for about 5 minutes. Transfer the sorbet to a plastic container until completely set, about 1 hour.