When Brad and I decided to move to California from New York, the question was posed, “will we miss having seasons?” As far as weather goes, the Bay Area has a pretty consistently mild climate that could be considered “seasonless” by East Coast standards. No, we didn’t have to shovel our car out of a foot of snow while bundled up to endure sub-freezing temperatures in February, and I don’t expect I’ll ever be desperate for air conditioning wondering if the August heat will drop below 100 degrees long enough to allow me to sleep through the night. But when it comes to food there are most definitely seasons, and their cycles are not all that different from the ones we knew before. Except that they seem to be moving at ludicrous speed.
Perhaps it is because the farmers and plants don’t need to come out of winter hibernation before spring produce can arrive. And there is also a funny thing where the presence of each crop is extended as we receive it first from the farmers traveling to us from the southern end of the California’s Central Valley and later from farmers north of us in Marin and Sonoma. But people, we were eating strawberries and asparagus in March. March! My Brooklyn friends were still wearing puffy jackets and dining on the remainders of last fall’s root veggie crops. By early May the cherries and apricots began to arrive, and soon Brad and I were eating blueberries by the handful. It’s June now, and stone fruit is already in full effect. I can barely handle it, and don’t even get me started on all the varieties (have you tasted Coral Champagne Cherries?)
The strawberry season has been long and sweet. And while I think we’re finally coming to its end, the most recent fruit has been the sweetest of all. It seems strawberries, like grapefruit, only get better as the late season heat results in a concentration of sugar. My friend Matt was so surprised by the their sweetness he suggested we make agua fresca with “just some water, a blender, that’s it!”, well, sort of… But if you’re feeling ambitious and wondering what to do with all those delicious, yet highly perishable strawberries you couldn’t resist the urge to buy at the farm stand, make yourself some ice cream. Brad and I recently unpacked our ice cream maker and gave a recipe from the Gourmet archives a whirl, and because we were feeling feisty, we threw some chocolate chips in too. The result was divine. I’ll be using this as my base for many fruit ice creams to come this summer. Up next, cherries and sugar plums before they’re all gone!
Strawberry Dark Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Make this ice cream with whatever ripe, sweet, seasonal fruit inspires you. The chocolate chips are of course optional, but highly recommended. Recipe adapted from Gourmet
- 1 3/4 cups heavy cream
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 lb strawberries (3 cups), trimmed and quartered
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
*Special equipment: an ice-cream maker and an instant-read thermometer
Combine the cream and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat.
Whisk the eggs with 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl, then add the hot cream in a slow stream, whisking. Pour back into the saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened and an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F (tip: remove it as the temperature is creeping past 165, do not let it begin to boil!).
Immediately pour your custard through a fine sieve into a metal bowl, then cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally (you can set the bowl in another bowl with ice water to speed this process). Chill, covered, at least until cold, about 2 hours, and up to 1 day.
While the custard is chilling, mix the strawberries with remaining 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice. Remove half to a blender and purée until smooth. Smash the other half with a potato masher, them combine and stir into the chilled custard.
Freeze in an ice cream maker. When the ice cream had reached your desired thickness, add the chocolate chips, then transfer to an airtight container and put in the freezer to harden.
*Variation: I just made this ice cream again with sugar plums and it was fantastic! Pit the plums, combine them with 1/4 cup of honey (sub for 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice) and heat gently, stirring frequently, in a saucepan until the fruit breaks down and the whole mixture is syrupy. Force through a mesh strainer and discard the remaining skins. Allow to cool and proceed to combine with the chilled custard.