I speak about memory, but how cruel it is to be reminded of my mother in every season. She's stitched herself into every element, it's hard to lose sight of her in my periphery. Autumn trips in Greyhounds and train stations, holding hands and taking naps on our way to New York City. I'd go for my birthdays--13, 15, 16. In Winter, I'd lick the spoon she'd used to make icing for the gingerbread men. One big, one small. They'd hold hands, too. April was the cruelest month, it's the month my mother was born.
But in the summer, I remember my mother most vividly. She takes the whole summer off sometimes, to take care of us or of our dogs. She raised chickens one summer. She'd sit out at the pool for hours, she'd forget to eat sometimes. She liked the sun and never had a wrinkle. She doesn't burn that easy. There's Shawnee in her, close in the roots. You see it in the undertones, you see it in the cheeks.
My parents come to visit three days before their 25th anniversary. A handful of days after the Fourth of July. My mom said she cut her hair short for summer. My dad said he worked sixteen hours in one day and drove home with his eyes shut. On the day my mother got her hair cut and the day my father worked so many hours, I bought strawberries by the bag full at the stand on the road. Plump, their juices broke in the bag. They greeted me with memories of the macerated strawberries I'd pick out of the tupperware bowl with my fingers. We'd have shortcake for dessert and ice cream by the pool. When my parents come out, I'll make them this sundae and see if they remember those days the way I do: perfect, simple, and gone forever.
Balsamic-Pickled Strawberry Sundae
A complicated, interesting take on a childhood classic. Have some fun with this picking brine, add flavored liquors, more peppercorns for some spice, or even some citrus peel or ginger.
For the pickled strawberries: one quart mason jar of pickled berries and brining liquor
- 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar (I cannot stress enough how much a "good" balsamic makes a difference when its flavor is the key here)
- 2/3 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 15-20 medium-sized strawberries (1.5 pints)
- 1/2 tablespoon of freshly cracked peppercorns (black)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 6-10 green cardamom pods, cracked
- 2 sprigs mint, slightly muddled
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, water and sugar together. Stir and allow to come to a boil and reduce by 1/4 to become slightly thickened (it won't be by much, but it will constitute better as a brining liquid this way). Allow to cool
- While vinegar mixture is cooling, hull and slice strawberries lengthwise. Add to a mason jar (Note: follow proper canning techniques, if desired, but I was using them the next day and did not).
- Add remaining ingredients, use a long spoon to mix gently to ensure some incorporation.
- Once vinegar mixture is cool to the touch, pour into mason jar. Put lid on and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, preferably 36.
For the Ice Cream (this one is kind of a "cheat recipe", as I like to go towards technique and not convenience. So, if you're up for it, make some Chantilly Meringuée as I did here)
- 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
- 1 1/2 tablespoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon flaked sea salt
- (Add anything else you want to it! Crushed black peppercorns would be great! Or swirl in some melted duck fat caramels for an even sweeter kick)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip heavy cream on high until stiff peaks form, 3-5 minutes
- In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk condensed milk, vanilla, and salt together
- Fold whipped cream into condensed milk mixture with a rubber spatula
- Pour into a loaf pan or other pan of your liking and freeze 6+ hours