Mouth-watering staples of Baltimore summer

August 06, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

I'VE BEEN OFF the weekend mornings to Baltimore's farmers' market duo, Waverly and the one downtown under the expressway. I'm often fascinated by the enthusiasm of my fellow marketgoers, of how purposefully they shop in search of the perfect Eastern Shore tomato or Carroll County corn.

This spurt of energy reminds me of an era when home cooking took no vacations.

My grandmother, Lily Rose, and her sister, Cora, were in top form with summer food preparation. Lily professed not to like the heat, but it didn't bother Cora, who was born in July.

The Waverly and downtown markets were not around when I was a child, but that did not mean we did without fresh tomatoes, berries and fruit. If anything, we had them in great quantity, because, with a household of 12, the larder could never be truly empty. There were fruit-selling hucksters in the alley, trips to the country and favorite roadside stands. And they had no problem buying from the old Gorsuch Avenue A&P either.

Their offerings of strictly summer desserts were not as involved as their winter cakes - they had a firm rule, never chocolate after Memorial Day - but were nonetheless a joy.

And when those local peaches and berries started coming in, watch out. The sisters were up to the task.

We tended to buy in bushel basket lots, probably cheaper. This also required fast work before the fruit spoiled.

Blackberry flummery was a summer staple at our house on Guilford Avenue, a great treat made all the more precious by the fact the berries were only in season a relatively short time.

I can see Cora now in full flummery mode, with a pot on the stove, stewing up a couple of quarts of blackberries (perhaps just about to turn a little soft) with sugar and cornstarch. The slightly thickened, stewed berries became a dazzling dessert, and often went over cottage cheese or got splashed with heavy cream. Now that's a flummery.

The two women were peach fanatics. They preferred them fresh, ripe and from the hillsides of Western Maryland, but geography was no barrier to their enthusiasm.

We probably overbought, but once again, they had their ways of assuring that nothing was wasted. As the peaches grew riper, their softness was only an excuse to fire up the oven for peach cake, which was a summer variant on their cinnamon cake, minus the spice.

My mouth still waters for a piece of Baltimore-style peach cake, a dessert that never seems to find favor at restaurants.

Their other practical way of dealing with a hot day and overly ripe peaches was basic stewing. This kept the product around a lot longer. For some reason, they never preserved and only once do I recall Cora putting up cucumbers for pickles.

On a hot August morning, maybe with a little humidity in the air, the scent of simmering peach rising through the house made you feel like a Baltimore summer was well worth the effort.

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