By AMBROSE CLANCY //
You never forget your first time.
No, not that. But rather that everyone who has ever had summer pudding has a distinct memory of their first taste, digging into a dense concoction of bread or cake with glistening blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and their juices, served with softly whipped cream.
It’s sensational any time of the year, made with seasonal berries or ones found in your local supermarket in the dead of winter.
The latter was tested with wonderful results when, the night before a February blizzard blew in, and with no sense of irony, my wife, Mary, made summer pudding. Snowbound, with plenty of wood for the fireplace, we ate it with cream all weekend.
The first time we tasted it was in Dublin after a long, lingering alfresco dinner in the long, lingering twilight of a July evening. It was a familiar dessert for our Irish friends, but a revelation to us. Summer by the forkful.
Following dinner, we were given a small basin of leftover pudding to take with us. It sat on ice all night in our hotel sink. We attacked it first thing in the morning. Best breakfast ever.
That’s one of the extras of this dish, that it doesn’t matter what season you’re going to make it (although summer is preferred) and you can eat it first thing in the morning, as a snack in the afternoon or as a memorable desert.
Maureen Homenick, who owns and manages Huntington-based personal-chef and catering business Chef Maureen, says most summer pudding recipes are pretty straightforward. But she cautions her fellow cooks to take their time “cutting the bread to fit the bowl.”
“And one needs to be aware of not over-soaking the bread,” Maureen adds. “The intention is just to color the bread with the fruit.”
And with that advice, you’re all set. See Mary’s recipe below.
The berries are really the key, and on Long Island, we’re never far from farm stands offering the best varieties. To get a read on the freshest berries available, we stopped by Wickham’s Fruit Farm in Cutchogue one morning and asked for Tom Wickham. “He’s in the fields,” an employee said, but he’d be right up.
It was a pleasant wait, with a luscious odor on the breeze – berries being boiled for jam – and families pulling in to pick their own fruit, spending some time on the 300-or-so acres rolling from Cutchogue’s main road to Peconic Bay. The Wickhams have been here a while, putting in their first crop in 1661.
Tom says his farm harvests two crops of strawberries – one in June and a later variety known as “seascape” – plus raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, all displayed in rows of vivid colors, picked just hours before you’ve arrived.
He notes that agribusinesses on the West Coast are producing berries “that are bigger and look nice, but they’re weakly flavored.” This is due to the demands of shipping the fruit, which is grown “so it’ll hold up on long journeys,” he says.
He offered a blackberry. The taste was tart, but sweet and strong enough to make your fingers reach for another.
His phone rang and he excused himself, walking back to the rows of fruit, gleaming on the vine in the gentle morning sun.
Mary Lydon’s Summer Pudding
4 cups of mixed berries
1/4 cup of sugar (or a little more)
1 lemon (zest and about half its juice)
1/2 cup of water
Loaf of sliced babka or brioche with crusts trimmed (freeze leftovers, including crusts, for a great bread pudding)
Simmer berries, sugar and water for five to seven minutes, add lemon juice.
Pour through colander to separate fruit from juice. KEEP BOTH, fruit in one bowl and juice in another. Let cool.
Line an 8-inch round by 3-inch high bowl with plastic wrap, allowing an inch or two to hang over the edge.
Trim crusts from half a loaf of bread (go ahead, use more if you like).
Dip each piece in juice as you assemble.
Cut first slice to size of bottom of bowl. Line sides of bowl with more slices, slightly overlapping.
In the middle, spoon a layer of fruit, then place layer of bread, then spoon remaining fruit, then finish with bread.
Cover with plastic wrap, bringing up overhanging pieces of wrap to cover.
Place a round dish, slightly smaller than circumference of bowl, over the top and weight it down with a heavy can.
Place in refrigerator overnight (or at least six to eight hours).
Reserve remaining juice (should be about a half cup) to patch outside when unmolded.
To unmold, remove the can, dish and wrap from top of the bowl (now the bottom of the pudding).
Turn over onto serving plate and carefully remove wrap that had lined bowl.
Patch any spots that have not been saturated with extra juice.
There you go. Serve it with poured heavy cream, slightly sweetened and softly whipped, with sprigs of mint. The bold may add dark rum and vanilla.
It’s also good plain, or with powdered sugar – but ice cream, in my opinion, is overkill.
Cake or plain old white bread can be used, but the berries are best with brioche. And leftovers (ha!) will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Ambrose Clancy is an award-winning writer/editor and veteran Long Island journalist. He currently serves as the editor of The Shelter Island Reporter.