FF_Artichokes for Streaking

Food Friday: Artichokes for Streaking

How are you getting ready for May Day? Are you practicing your May pole dance? Have you shaken out the dust and the bells on your Morris dancing costume? Are you looking for love? Are you going to participate in the much-loved rite of spring: streaking? If you answer “Yes!” to any of those questions then you might want to buy some artichokes in preparation.

Long considered an aphrodisiac, the artichoke is technically a flower bud that has not yet bloomed. Such a potent symbol: prickly on the outside, soft and yielding on the inside. In 1576, Dr. Bartolomeo Boldo wrote that the artichoke “has the virtue of … provoking Venus for both men and women; for women making them more desirable, and helping the men who are in these matters rather tardy.” Stock up on equal opportunity artichokes, they are good for everyone!

Greek mythology gives Zeus the credit for creating of the artichoke. After he had been spurned by a beautiful woman, Zeus turned his love object into a thorny thistle, the artichoke. The ancient Greeks and Romans thought the artichoke was a rare and delicious delicacy. What better time than the beginning of May to celebrate the artichoke, particularly when it is at the peak of its season? And Sunday is May Day, so you should get off on the right foot.

After the Greeks and the Romans the artichoke spread to Spain. Catherine de Medici was supposed to have brought the artichoke to France when she arrived to marry the future Henry II. Catherine was known for her voracious appetites for both food and romance, and she scandalized the French court by eating lots of artichokes, and enjoying the sexy reputation that resulted. Shortly thereafter the artichoke crossed the Channel, where Henry VIII, he of many wives, was thought to be quite fond of them.

The French brought the artichoke to America. George Washington grew them at Mount Vernon. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery contains a 17th-century recipe “To Make Hartichoak Pie.” At one point in Hamilton, the current Broadway show, it is remarked that Alexander Hamilton was a serial philanderer, and “Martha Washington named her feral tomcat after him.” One wonders if she ever served Alexander Hamilton Harty Choak Pie, too.

From Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery:

To Make an Harty Choak Pie:
Take 12 harty choak bottoms yt are good & large, after you have boyled them, take them cleere from ye leaves & cores, season them with a little pepper & salt & lay them on a coffin of paste, with a pound of butter & ye marrow of 2 bones in bigg pieces, then close it up to set in ye oven, then put halfe a pound of sugar to halfe a pinte of verges [a sauce made with green herbs] & some powder of cinnamon and ginger – boyle these together & when ye pie is halfe baked put the liquor in & set it in ye oven againe till it be quite bak’d.

Most artichokes sold in the United States today are grown in Castroville, California. In keeping with the artichoke’s somewhat sensual reputation, it should be noted that in 1947 Marilyn Monroe, then Norma Jean, was crowned Castroville’s first Artichoke Queen.

If you are going to get up to corporeal mischief this weekend, here are some helpful pointers:
This is a useful video of Jacques Pepin prepping an artichoke:
http://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/prepping-artichokes-versus-buying-artichoke-hearts-article

I have a fantasy life where on the weekends we are visited by our sophisticated and witty friends, who are stealing time away from their fascinating and glamorous careers in the arts. The only breakfast I could dream of serving them would be this:
http://www.marthastewart.com/356430/steamed-artichokes-poached-eggs-and-smoked-salmon

It never hurts to have elegant imaginary friends.But if I expect a little romance myself this weekend, I had best up our breakfast game. I am going to give this a whirl: http://artichokes.org/recipes-and-such/recipes/artichoke-frittata Sadly, the Saturday morning reality is just Mr. Friday and me sitting blearily at the kitchen table, reading the papers, and considering our list of weekend chores while shoveling sticks and twigs into our gawping mouths. On Sundays we add bacon. This weekend I will throw a some inspiring artichokes into the mix and trust to fate!

“Tra la! It’s May!
The lusty month of May!
That lovely month when ev’ryone goes
Blissfully astray.”
-Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, Camelot

Here is a nice Maryland variation on the artichoke theme that Food52 suggests we try: https://food52.com/recipes/4382-crab-stuffed-artichokes

Smiles in Saint Michaels by Pamela Heyne

On a Sunday walk on the Saint Michaels Nature trail I passed a favorite house, with a brilliant chartreuse fence.  Growing out of the fence was a dollhouse sized structure sporting a paper that said “I Brio am pleased to announce the dedication and grand opening of Brio’s little Free Library. 3pm…”  Wine and bread were offered in exchange for a book. As a further inducement I noticed a sign on the outside of the library that said “There are no strangers here, only friends you have not met yet.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 6.01.17 PMHappily I cut my walk short, obtained said book,  and opened the purple gate which was flanked with purple Dutch clogs.  I did not know who Brio was, but was met by the owners,  an old friend, Peter  Hartjens and his stylish wife Constance Morris Hope (a leadership coach). We sat at a sunny outdoor table, painted purple and sporting a dragon centerpiece. We sipped wine and chatted with  Interesting neighbors who soon dropped by. Brio the dog slept under the table.  

Peter previously owned a unique home emporium on Saint Michaels road, Tidedancers. His fans, I included, asked him if he would ever consider reopening.  No, he said.  He is now a “certifiable smilemaker.”  He recently published a book A Million Smiles: 101 True (well, mostly true) smilemaking stories.  The house, with its exuberant doses of whimsy, also makes one smile.

Pamela Heyne is a Saint Michaels architect and writer, pam@heynedesign.com.

Celebrate National Public Gardens Day with Free Admission to Adkins Arboretum

Adkins Arboretum will celebrate the American Public Gardens Association’s (APGA) eighth annual National Public Gardens Day by waiving admission fees on Fri., May 6.

Slated to coincide with Mother’s Day weekend, the unofficial start of spring, National Public Gardens Day affords public gardens an opportunity to showcase their gardens and highlight the valuable contributions they make to their communities.

On National Public Gardens Day, Arboretum visitors can shop from the region’s largest selection of ornamental native plants at the Native Plant Nursery; view an exhibition by artist Marilyn Banner; take a self-guided tour or an audio tour; explore the forest, wetland, meadows and native gardens; and learn about the link between native plants, land conservation and a healthy Chesapeake Bay. Visitors who become members will receive free admission year-round, in addition to a host of other benefits.

Arboretum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Nursery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, beginning May 6.

Founded in 1940, Delaware-based APGA is devoted to strengthening public gardens throughout North America. Its membership includes more than 500 public gardens in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and seven other countries.

Home Tips: Protect Your House and Birds this Summer

It’s that time of year again….birds are returning, nesting, and flying into our windows with a heart wrenching “thud.” Every year close to a billion birds are killed in North America simply flying into glass windows. In the daytime the windows reflect surrounding foliage, and birds don’t realize they are smashing into an illusion. Some birds attack their reflection in a window, thinking it is another bird competing for their mate. At night birds are confused by bright lights and assume they can fly through that interior.

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 8.47.49 AM

These are bird friendly windows made with Ornilux glass. Courtesy www.arnold-glas.de

There are various nets and lines that can dangle in front of the windows. I have used decals with success. Windowalert.com has a series of inexpensive ultraviolet decals (hawks, other birds, snowflakes), films and sprays that the birds see, but are transparent for us. The window must be a moderate temperature and clean when the decals are applied. The decals last about six months.

For new construction or replacement windows, consider a UV reflective glass such as Ornilux. It has a chaotic pattern of UV lines painted on a middle layer of the insulated unit. It is completely transparent to us, yet highly visible to birds. Many architects are specifying fritted glass windows; closely spaced dots or other patterns of ceramic fused on the outer surface are visible to birds, but we can see through them. Fritted glass is typically used in office buildings. Chicago has been a leader in making their tall buildings more bird friendly.

Do not forget awnings. They block unwanted sunlight and help block those pesky reflections of foliage as well. Whatever you do, it’s for the birds.

Pamela Heyne, pam@heynedesign.com, is a Saint Michaels architect. Her forthcoming book, In Julia’s Kitchen, Practical & Convivial Kitchen design influenced by Julia Child, will be out this fall.

Discover Kent County’s Native Gardens on Adkins Native Garden Tour

On Sat., May 21, when spring is in its glory, Adkins Arboretum brings its fourth annual native garden tour, “Celebrating Natives,” to Kent County.

“Celebrating Natives” is a different kind of garden tour, one that focuses on sustainable approaches to Eastern Shore gardening. The tour not only highlights the beauty of the gardens but emphasizes their importance in a biodiverse landscape.

The self-guided driving tour features six unique gardens from Chestertown to Rock Hall, each demonstrating varying commitments to native plantings and uses of sustainable practices such as rain barrels and composting. The gardens range from a small in-town lot that takes full advantage of every inch, to two multi-acre waterfront property showcasing thriving native trees, to gardens tended specifically for wildlife.

The first garden tour of its kind on the Eastern Shore, “Celebrating Natives” exemplifies the Arboretum’s mission of teaching about and showing by example the importance of using native plants in restoring balance to the ecosystem and fostering community relationships. Native plants are those that grew and thrived on the Eastern Shore before the introduction of European settlers. Because these plants have adapted naturally to the region’s ecology of climate, insects and wildlife, they are a better choice than non-native plants.

“Celebrating Natives” will take place rain or shine on Sat., May 21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 on the day of the tour in the parking lot of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 508 High St., Chestertown. For more information or to order tickets, visit adkinsarboretum.org or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.

Get Ready: The 2016 Talbot County House & Garden Pilgrimage May 14

Grand and Gracious” is the theme of the 2016 Talbot County House and Garden Tour, which will take place on Saturday, May 14, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine. The tour combines the new and old featuring two exquisite in-town homes and five waterfront estates, all with stunning gardens designed to capture the beauty of the Eastern Shore.  Sponsored by the Talbot County Garden Club, the tour is part of the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage (MHGP) and, in keeping with the MHGP mission of historic preservation, a portion of the proceeds from the tour will be used to restore the bell tower at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Oxford, MD.

Settled by the English about 1661, Talbot County is steeped in more than 350 years of American history. With more than 600 miles of waterfront, easy water access for travelers and traders helped to make this area an early settlement and it continues to draw countless visitors by ‘land and sea’ today.  One stop on the tour that gives visitors a taste of the grace that is Talbot County are the gardens of the Historical Society of Talbot County, featuring dwarf boxwood, spring and fall blooming camellias, and native Sweet Bay magnolias.  The gardens were designed by and are still maintained by members of the Talbot County Garden Club.

Two of the featured homes lie in the Town of Easton and date back to 1911 and 1923.  The first home, completed just after the turn of the century, provides an expansive view of the entire house from a unique front yard driveway and features a secret garden. The home is filled with Eastern Shore art and Dutch antiques, unusual crystal chandeliers, and a collection of Nantucket baskets. The second home is a restored classic 1923 on a property filled with specimen trees and shrubs in which Oriental sculptures are nestled among the greens. The home has been “filled with finds, folk art and family antiques” and features a thoroughly modern kitchen. One wall of the dining room contains hidden floor-to-ceiling cabinets holding collections of china and glass. Both of these gracious homes balance the peace and serenity of the country with the friendly hustle and bustle of downtown Easton.

Situated on 30 acres on the Tred Avon River among enormous trees, Cedar Point Farm dates back to about 1700.  The central part of this dramatic, columned estate was rebuilt after a fire in the 20th century, the highlight of which is a freestanding stairway with its mahogany newel and continuous ribbon maple baluster that survived the fire.  The owner has mixed the new with the old, prized antiques, and ‘coincidental treasures’ throughout the first floor, all to affect a luxurious country home.  The white kitchen features a colorful collection of vintage enamelware.  A two-story furnished porch overlooks the lawn to the river and the enchanting grounds include ancient trees with younger replacement trees in the understory, a boathouse with a screened porch, and a whimsical guest cottage with its Mad Hatter chandelier and a 1940’s retro red kitchen.

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 8.34.26 AMLife at Harleigh, an elegant 19th century manor house overlooking Trippe Creek, is all about the land–preservation and conservation, birds and wildlife, and gardens and grounds to enable farm-to-table eating. The owners have made a number of major restorations since purchasing the farm in the early 1980’s including adding a north wing to the main structure and a new art studio, as well as installing formal gardens, a pergola and terraces. Visitors will enjoy notable artwork and family treasures throughout the home where the color red prevails. A working farm, Harleigh is also a prime game hunting location and visitors will enjoy viewing the gunroom, changing lounge and hunting art. With a late spring, as they pass through the ornate gates and down the lane, visitors may marvel at more than one million daffodils lining the driveway to the main house.

Millwood, also located on Trippe Creek, is a friendly three-over-three, center-hall-designed clapboard farmhouse, typical of 20th century genteel living on the Eastern Shore. Visitors can stroll through the grounds beneath 100-year old trees, along mowed paths and across quaint bridges to get a feel for the local flora and fauna. Three generations of the current owner’s family use Millwood as a retreat and it even has a dollhouse to entertain their smallest grandchildren.

Kinsley, a newly constructed Georgian brick house, is a detailed copy of the original President’s House (circa 1730) at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. Kinsley sits on the banks of Goldsborough Creek among mature trees where it is the centerpiece of an earlier plantation layout with the symmetry of formal gardens on one side and barns and outbuildings on the other “working” side. The home features period woodwork, handmade cabinetry and hand-forged door hardware throughout. The owners have included a striking white marble kitchen with mudroom, porches and expansive living and dining rooms. Up a grand staircase, visitors will find a master suite, guest room and third floor family room. A kitchen garden and formal box gardens filled with outstanding specimen plants are not to be missed.

As a retired landscape architect, the owner’s wife planned the structure and gardens for Nonesuch Place to take advantage of the quiet views and breezes off Town Creek. In designing their gracious home, the owners built a Tidewater style home that looked like it ‘belonged’ with the brick center section modeled after existing 18th century story-and-a-half homes in Talbot County. The master bedroom and kitchen wings follow the traditional customary profile and appear as though they had been added on later.  A large arc of boxwood and nepeta compliments the point of land that forms the backyard and a perennial garden surrounds the pool, which is anchored by a gazebo placed perfectly to catch the summer breezes.

Advance tickets may be purchased for $30 at www.mhgp.org or in person at Bountiful and Garden Treasures in Easton. Tickets will also be available for purchase on the day of the tour at all tour locations for $35. Credit cards will only be accepted for online purchases.

Box lunches can be purchased in advance for $15 and will be available between 10 and 2 on the day of the tour at the Oxford Community Center. Orders can be placed at Bountiful and Garden Treasures, or by mailing a check payable to the Talbot County Garden Club to P.O. Box 1524, Easton, MD 21601. Checks must be received by May 2nd.

For further information please contact the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage at www.mhgp.org or the Talbot County Garden Club Tour Committee at 2016talbottour@gmail.com.

 

Food Friday: Hamburger Helper!

It really doesn’t get any simpler than this: ground beef, salt, pepper, and a cast iron skillet. With a little practice, you can have an excellent bar burger at home without lighting up the grill, without baking your own buns, and without paying for overpriced beer. Yumsters.

I have always believed that hamburgers cooked outside over a charcoal grill were manna from heaven. American fast food manna, for sure. When Mr. Friday switched from charcoal to a gas grill, I was disappointed in the flavor of my burgers. Those carcinogens emitted by the charcoal were very tasty. And I would never venture outside to grill my own hamburgers if Mr. Friday was away, as he often is. The gas grill was intimidating with its buttons and gauges and whooshing and the inherent explosive nature of the gas tank. No, thank you. Instead I would get take out at the local drive through – which has excellent onion rings, as well as a good, cheap cheeseburger.

I expect an excellent burger when I go out to a sit-down restaurant, and mostly I get served merely adequate, formerly frozen, blocks o’meat. But if they are served with crispy, blisteringly hot French fries, I tend to nibble around the burger, eating the well-done bits, and I try to feel as if I have had a satisfactory dinner. There have been expertly cooked, gold standard bar burgers in my past, and I savor their memories, but present day, my local burger dining experiences have been disappointing.

Enough of that nonsense! I have discovered a burger I can cook on top of the stove, without fear of explosions, without carcinogens, without getting into my car and having to share with Luke the wonder dog on the ride home. Thank you, Sam Sifton of the New York Times. You have allayed my cooking fears, encouraged bad behavior in smashing the cooking beef, and given me home-cooked hamburger independence.

I am always searching for the perfect French fry prep, and have found that Crispy Crowns are perfect temporary accompaniment. Heresy for sure, but they are hot, crunchy, crispy, and deelish, and all they need is a couple of shakes of Lowry’s Seasoning Salt. And they fend for themselves in the oven while you are performing your rapid-fire maneuvers with the burgers. It is hard to juggle a vat of boiling oil and a couple of searing hamburgers. Trust me, the gas grill is less dangerous.

Mr. Friday was not convinced about using cold meat, right out of the fridge until I showed him the video graphic evidence – so take a few minutes to watch the video. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/25/dining/how-to-make-a-great-burger.html?_r=0 He enjoyed squishing the hamburger with a heavy spatula, and you will, too.

And here are the steps, courtesy of the New York Times.

1. Add oil or butter to a large cast-iron or stainless steel skillet and place over medium heat. Gently divide ground beef into 8 small piles of around 4 ounces each, and even more gently gather them together into orbs that are about 2 inches in height. Do not form patties.

2. Increase heat under skillet to high. Put half the orbs into the skillet with plenty of distance between them and, using a stiff metal spatula, press down on each one to form a burger that is around 4 inches in diameter and about 1/2 inch thick. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Cook without moving until patties have achieved a deep, burnished crust, a little less than 2 minutes. Use the spatula to scrape free and carefully turn burgers over. If using cheese, lay slices on meat.

4. Continue to cook until meat is cooked through, approximately a minute or so longer. Remove burgers from skillet, place on buns and top as desired. Repeat process with remaining burgers.

We tried cooking our two burgers, a thin, bar-style for me, and the larger, thicker hamburger for Mr. Friday in our relatively new, only slightly seasoned cast-iron skillet. What an excellent addition to the pots and pans assemblage that pan has become! It is perfect for so many kitchen essentials: corn bread, bacon, fancy pan-seared steaks à la Mr. Friday, fried chicken, cobblers, hash browns; you name it. The clever folks at Bon Appétit have dozens of ideas: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/cast-iron-skillet-recipes

I topped up with cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickles. Mr. Friday used catsup, spicy brown mustard, and lettuce. I find catsup an abomination, and much prefer a nice slice of a room-temp local tomato. Inevitably, at this time of year, it is an overpriced organic heirloom ugly tomato that I have carted home from the grocery store. But tomato season is rapidly approaching!

Served with Crispy Crowns which I always overcook slightly (by design) and a pleasant, inexpensive plonk, we had a fine meal, topped off with many calories from a raspberry fool.

“You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars.”
― Charles Kuralt

Helpful cast iron pan hints: http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/11/the-truth-about-cast-iron.html

Get Ready: St. Michaels Farmers Market Starts April 16

Michaels Farmers Market’s 2016 season will kick off on Saturday, April 16, from 8:30 to 11:30 AM. The market, which offers the best of local products from the Chesapeake Bay region, is held weekly in the public parking lot between Talbot and Fremont Streets. The 2016 season features a host of new and returning farmers and producers, an active roster of chef demonstrations and live music.

Many popular farmers will return this season. Among new producers in 2016 is Old World Breads of Lewes, Delaware, which sells artisanal breads, pastries, and prepared foods (http://www.oldworldbreads.com/product-list.html). Piazza Italian Market of Easton will join with local foods to take home or eat for breakfast. Stonehouse Farms of Trappe will offer pastured chicken, eggs, and local pork, and Blue Heron Coffee of St. Michaels will be on hand with locally roasted coffee beans and coffee each Saturday morning. Spirit Grower of Wittman will have an interesting line-up of pesticide-free produce this season, including their popular heirloom sweet potatoes.

This will be the 18th season of operation for the open-air, local foods market, but for the first time, the St. Michaels market is partnering with St. Michaels Community Center (SMCC) for a “Grow Bay Hundred” initiative. By working together, the market and community center will expand awareness of and accessibility to regional foods and promote increased community engagement. To mark the collaboration, SMCC will host the reopening of the St. Michaels Community Garden in tandem with the market opening.

Helping spearhead the new partnership is Abigail Rose of Oxford. Coming aboard as market manager following a six-year stint as innkeeper for the Combsberry Inn, Abby brings a versatile skill set to the post, including cooking, gardening, marketing, soap making, and an infectious enthusiasm for local food. She says, “The ambiance and community of the market is exciting and fun. These producers work hard to bring the best and freshest products. I am so pleased to be market manager and look forward to seeing both familiar and new faces this season.”

Abby and others have been working to ensure a revitalized market for the 2016 season. “We wanted to offer everything customers expect from a vibrant farmers market,” notes Abby, “and we’ve achieved our goal. We’re expecting a fantastic selection of locally produced foods, chef demos, music, food preparation and preservation workshops, and related partner programming.”

The market’s opening day will provide a snapshot of the coming season, with guitarist and vocalist, Rick Forrest, entertaining shoppers with a selection of acoustic, bluesy tunes. At 9:00 AM, chef Tony Breeze will give a cooking demonstration. Tony, who recently retired as executive chef of Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, now runs the local Seasons Cooking School at Glen Eagle Lodge in Bozman. Market shoppers can look forward to sampling a spring recipe on opening day and to a strong line-up of visiting chefs throughout the market season, including Jordan Lloyd of Bartlett Pear Inn on April 23rd.

The St. Michaels Market is open rain or shine, from April to October. Through its producer-only markets and community programs, Freshfarm Markets – a non-profit organization – works to educate the public about food and environmental issues, and to provide vital economic opportunities for local farmers.

Talbot Smokehouse Expands to Create New Market

The owners of Talbot Smokehouse, located in historic downtown Trappe, have expanded with the opening today of Smokehouse Market, a specialty shop selling items from the restaurant’s menu ”to go” as well as branded merchandise.

Talbot Smokehouse, an eclectic barbeque restaurant, was opened late last year by the Pascal Family Group in partnership with Roland Enterprises, after they purchased the site of the former Mitchum’s Steak House. The site included the building the restaurant now occupies as well as two adjacent buildings, one of which has been turned into Smokehouse Market.

“We saw the potential of this property from day one. But we were waiting to see how Talbot Smokehouse would be received to determine what to do with the vacant space,” said Robert A. W. Pascal, who owns the Pascal Family Group with his wife, Caroline. “The response to our menu has been so positive that opening a market focused on selling some of more popular items ‘to go’ was the next logical step.”

Smokehouse Market, open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., will carry signature specialties from the restaurant such as smoked brisket, turkey and Old Bay links, sandwiches, and a variety of cold salads and sides well as house-made barbeque sauce, Talbot Smokehouse branded merchandise, wine, beer and more.

The menu at Talbot Smokehouse features barbeque classics such as smoked short ribs served with pearl onions, braised kale and aged cheddar grits; smoked BBQ chicken accompanied by hoppin’ John, broccoli slaw and new potatoes; and grilled salmon presented with a smoked onion puree, root vegetables, spinach and crispy leeks. The restaurant is open for dinner, Tuesday through Sunday. An additional bar menu is offered beginning at noon on Saturday and Sunday.

Food Friday: April Fools

Sadly, I am not clever enough to come up with a brilliant idea like the BBC’s famous spaghetti farm for April Fools Day. You have to watch this little video even if you have seen it before. ‘Tis the season to enjoy something silly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVo_wkxH9dU

I have my humble, little container garden of basil and greens, and earlier this week I planted some sprouting garlic to start my Middle Street Garlic Ranch. All I need now are tomatoes, and the fabled spaghetti harvest, and I will be in business. I’ll need some breadfruit, too, I suppose.

I thought we could test drive some fruit fools, and decide for ourselves which would be the tastiest way to spend April Fools Day. This cannot be a choice which we make lightly – do we want whipped cream, custard or yogurt? Do we want to add meringue bits or crumbly crumbs to give the mixture a little texture? Do we stew the fruit, or crush it? We will have to don our aprons with open minds and mouths. It is time for the fool smack down.

When I was growing up we had a couple of rhubarb plants in the lower garden by the corner of the old barn cum garage. perennials, they were spectacularly lush every summer, with huge rain forest-worthy leaves; their growth fueled by being the plants closest to the compost pile. I am sure my mother kept the plants just for their appearance, because she never cooked the pink stalks. They were attractive, just not food-worthy in her judgment. She grew plants purely for their ornamental value, rarely for harvest. We did grow tomatoes every summer, and there were the few times my father tried to introduce a green pepper crop, but mostly we had flowers for their beauty alone, and their ability to lure butterflies or hummingbirds.

The rhubarb I see these days in the grocery store does not live up to my memories of the rhubarb in the back yard – the strong, stringy batons that were wildly sour when we tried to nibble them. (“Don’t eat the poisonous leaves,” we were warned, so we assiduously removed all vestiges of the dangerous green as diligently we avoided the three forms of poison ivy.) What I see at the market these days is rhubarb that is far from it place of origin, and has gone all limp and sad. Therefore, we must restore this herbaceous vegetable that aspires to be a fruit, and is the center of our April Fools Feast, with a fluffy whorl of cream and sugar greatness.

Here are several ways to prepare rhubarb for a delicious smackeral of a fool – by stewing, boiling or puréeing. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/apr/12/how-to-make-perfect-rhubarb-fool

If you want to venture beyond your own back garden harvest, (or the farmers’ market crispy fresh rhubarb) you can always try soft berries, which you only need to smash a little, before blending with the cream, custard or yogurt. I am always partial to raspberries, with strawberries being the more practical and economical choice, in a heady mixture of whipped cream. If I could swirl the berries in Devonshire cream I certainly would, but a nice big bowl of fresh homemade whipped cream is perfection unto itself.

There cannot be a simpler recipe to follow for a delectable dessert: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9592-strawberry-fool

But if you add some meringue to strawberries and cream, you can puff out your chest and announce that everyone is eating Eton Mess, which sounds grand, and tastes even better:
http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/eton-mess-103204 We like to promote recipes that include gratuitous dollops of alcohol, as you can tell.

And once you have mastered Eton Mess, a strawberry Pavlova is destined to be your next dessert accomplishment. This is most impressive, but it requires a slightly steadier hand than the Mess, so cut down on the cooking sherry. http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9641-strawberry-pavlova

But once again I have strayed from the footpath. Now that we are enjoying a beautiful flower-filled spring, let the joy we have felt watching the cherry blossom petals waft onto the lawn extend to whipping up some cream and crushing some fruit. Enjoy a fool’s paradise.

“Compromise is a stalling between two fools.”
― Stephen Fry