Summer is full of celebrations, and that means dessert! Most of us are already planning our Fourth of July festivities, whether a picnic in the park, a barbecue in the back yard or the traditional family gathering at Grandma’s house. Throughout my childhood, Independence Day always started before dawn and lasted well into the night, because this holiday was partly about Grandma’s fabulous Potato Salad and Deviled Eggs but mostly about fireworks! In the rural area of the Ozarks where my grandparents lived, nobody spent one second thinking about the dangers of letting children play with matches and explosives for hours on end.
On July 3, Grandpa would drive me and my sister and brother to the state line and let each of us fill up our own huge paper sack of fireworks to shoot off all by ourselves all day long on The Fourth of July. We always called this special summer holiday The Fourth of July, not Independence Day, and I didn’t realize until I was in my eighth-grade civics class that this was a patriotic holiday. I was so excited and obsessed about waking up at sunrise and literally spending the entire day shooting off strings of firecrackers in the alley that I didn’t even notice that my grandfather always hung his American flag on the porch that day and every year we drank red soda pop, ate red watermelon, and stuffed ourselves on Gram’s bright red Strawberry Short Cake, made with pie crust, not biscuits.
For me, year after year, the pace of this hot summer day revolved around managing my personal supply of fireworks to create the maximum amount of loud noise during the early hours and later morphing into the glorious multicolored lights of the sparklers, fountains, and Roman candles that we hoarded all day until darkness fell. I remember running through the warm dark night with Margaret and Johnny, swirling our sparklers like magic wands, lighting new ones off each other’s, as each golden sparkler fizzled and went out. The fountains, which we had to place on the ground, like little teepees, sent showers of bright red, blue and gold stars into the night with loud fizzing and whistling sounds, even to the delight of the grownups who, after eating all day, sat on the porch, surrounded by citronella candles, and watched. Finally, the Roman candles, which we held in our hands and aimed up at the starry sky, sent booming rockets of red fireballs into the darkness and scented the summer night with warm, lingering smoke.
As I mentioned, our desserts on Fourth of July always included cold watermelon, which we ate in thick wedges, held in our hands with watermelon juice dripping down our chins and even our elbows, equally juicy red strawberry shortcake and warm blackberry cobbler, one of my all-time favorite summer desserts. You can find my recipe for Blackberry Cobbler with Almond Streusel Topping in my August 2020 blog on this website. My grandmother’s Independence Day menu also featured piles of Fried Chicken, Corn on the Cob, and sliced tomatoes from the garden along with just pulled green onions to accompany the Potato Salad and Deviled Eggs. Sometimes there was also a beautiful jiggly red Jello salad.
Independence Day menus differ in various regions of the country, but the Fourth of July, and summertime in general, are the time for Iced Tea and cool, refreshing desserts. It is my pleasure to share with you two luscious, chilled desserts that you can make in advance and serve at any summer celebration or Tea Party to the delight of your family and friends. The first of these is appropriately named Summer Pudding.
Summer Pudding is a simple, old-fashioned dessert that beautifully highlights the jewel-like red, blue and purple colors of fresh summer berries. The sweetened and slightly cooked berries are layered between slices of day-old white bread, which soak up the juices for a gorgeous summer presentation that can be served with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or both. For those of you who like to go with red, white and blue on the Fourth of July, this is the dessert for you. Though you will be celebrating America’s independence from the British Empire, you might be surprised to discover that Summer Pudding actually originated in England in the 1800s.
If you have visited England, you are aware that the countryside is crisscrossed with hedges and ancient stone fences, perfect havens for wild berries to thrive. While my Summer Pudding recipe calls for raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and dark Bing cherries, many other varieties of berries grow in rural England, and perhaps in the region where you live. Black and red currants, gooseberries, elderberries and mulberries are among the plethora of wild berries that grow in England Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Don’t hesitate to include any summer berries that are available in your area in your Summer Pudding, such as huckleberries from Oregon and olallieberries from the California coast.
Like their Scandinavian neighbors to the north, the British also include copious amounts of dairy products and baked goods in their diet. Milk, butter cheese and cream, along with breads and pastries show up at almost every English meal. And in a culture where Afternoon Tea is a daily occurrence, there are bound to be leftover cakes, cookies and bread. Some of England’s most famous and indeed most delicious desserts were developed as ingenious ways to use up leftovers, especially an over-abundance of garden produce, wild fruit and berries, baked goods or extra dairy products in the long summer growing season. One such dessert is Trifle, named for its humble origins as an innovative way to layer leftover pound cake with fruits, berries, jam, custard and broken cookies. Served in a footed glass bowl, this colorful and easy dessert looks like a gourmet creation. Our website features several different trifles to highlight the produce of every season. This summer, you might want to make our luscious Peach and Raspberry Trifle from the Afternoon Tea and the Four Seasons section of The Tea Book. Summer Pudding is a variation of the traditional English Trifle, a milestone in culinary frugality.
As a species without fur, with no tail to keep our balance,
We must rely on signs, look to the stars as they move
Through the heavens, note the phases of the moon
And the shifts in the sun’s risings.
We must listen to the elders who remember
Winters so cold even the foxes and the wolves
Drew near to our fires, and the dogs who had come to live with us
Lay down beside us to share their warm coats
With our freezing bodies in exchange for a bone to gnaw.
The old ones also recall summers so hot that nothing mattered
More than water, and wildfires were more deadly than
The bitter driving snow and the avalanche
That could take a whole village away.
We have learned to be the watchers.
We see the first crocus pushing through the snow,
The new leaves on the dogwood,
The fireflies flitting through the warm night air.
These are the gifts we must never squander--
Bright red berries in the healing sunlight,
Golden crowns of corn in the long summer days
And every drop of water that falls
From the generous sky.
The second cool summer dessert I am sharing this month is an American classic: Key Lime Pie. As one could easily guess, this refreshing treat originated in Key West, Florida and features the juice and zest of Key limes that grow in the region. Smaller and more aromatic than the more familiar Persian limes, Key limes produce a very tart, pale yellow juice, rendering the creamy filling for this pie a soft yellow color, though I must admit that I used large Persian limes, as Key Limes are not available in Hawaii. Local legends claim that Key Lime Pie first appeared in the Nineteenth Century, but food historians have not found any written evidence to support this theory. Instead, most researchers believe that Key Lime Pie was developed around 1931 when the Borden company started producing canned sweetened condensed milk, a central ingredient for this pie. The original recipe included condensed milk, egg yolks and the juice and rind of lemons. By 1933, lime juice replaced lemon juice, and the pie became associated with the Florida Keyes. My recipe is an adaptation of a seemingly miraculous pie from the website: Mom On Timeout that requires only lime juice and zest, sweetened condensed milk and sour cream to create a perfect pie filling. I exchanged the graham cracker crust with a ginger snap crust, which I perked up with a little minced candied ginger and extra lime zest. Feel free to toss in a little toasted coconut if you wish, but this pie begs to be slathered with chilled and freshly whipped cream.
I have already made three Key Lime Pies this summer, as they are so popular at our weekend family meals that they keep returning to the menu due to popular demand. Francis Blanco, the father of our surrogate granddaughter Willa, even declared, “2021 is the Year of Key Lime Pie!” I was so charmed by that generous compliment that I baked him his own personal Key Lime Pie for Father’s Day while the rest of us enjoyed our Summer Pudding. Key Lime Pie is ridiculously easy to make and only requires a few minutes of oven time to heat up your kitchen on a hot summer day. However, you must be patient, as it takes time to squeeze the juice from at least three large limes to give this pie the perfect balance of tart and sweet. This is the same leisurely summer patience you will need to pit a pound of cherries by hand for your Summer Pudding.
Summer Pudding is a type of Trifle, a layered dessert designed to make use of extra berries and leftover baked goods. The original Summer Pudding was a molded dessert in which berries and juice were layered in a mixing bowl with white bread, then chilled with a weighted plate on top and later unmolded and served on a platter like a dome-shaped cake. To make this old-fashioned version successfully, it is best to line the mixing bowl with plastic wrap to assist with the unmolding process.
I prefer to make an easier version of Summer Pudding by just layering all the ingredients in an attractive clear glass bowl or a footed Trifle bowl. And I do not limit myself to stale white bread to soak up the juices. Various recipes recommend lady fingers, cookies or cake. For the Summer Pudding I made recently, I used a one-pound loaf of frozen Sara Lee Pound Cake. The list of ingredients for this recipe is just a series of suggestions, as Summer Pudding is essentially a bunch of berries, juice and cake mixed together and topped with pillows of whipped cream. There is no wrong way to make Summer Pudding.
- 1 pound of dark Bing cherries, stemmed, pitted and halved (I used 2 pounds of cherries, as I am crazy in love with cherries.)
- 2-3 cups blackberries
- 2-3 cups raspberries
- 2-3 cups blueberries
- Zest and juice of 1 large navel orange
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup orange liqueur (such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier, optional)
- 16- ounce frozen Sara Lee Pound Cake (or a combination of trimmed white bread, ladyfingers, cookies or other cake)
- I cup of chilled, extra heavy whipping cream, beaten with 2 tablespoons powdered sugar and ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Vanilla ice cream (optional)
Special equipment: colander, paring knife, large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, glass measuring cup, heat-proof rubber spatula, attractive glass bowl or footed Trifle bowl, plastic wrap, hand-held electric mixer, medium mixing bowl, individual serving bowls.
Makes: 6-12 servings
- Rinse the berries in a colander and let them drain. Place the berries in a large heavy saucepan, sprinkle them with ½ cup sugar, and stir them occasionally as you prepare the cherries. Pit, stem and halve the cherries with a paring knife and place the cherry halves directly into the heavy saucepan. Stir the mixture to distribute the sugar evenly.
- Zest a large orange and add the zest to the berry mixture. Stir. Squeeze the juice from the orange into a glass measuring cup. Add water if necessary to make ½ cup. Add the orange juice to the berry mixture and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.
- Stir the berry mixture with a heat-proof spatula and simmer for 8-10 minutes until the berries begin to break down and release their juices. Remove from the heat and add the orange liqueur if using. Cool for at least 20 minutes.
- Slice the pound cake down the middle and into approximately ½ inch slices through the narrow side. Cover the bottom of the serving bowl with 1 cup or more of the cooled berry mixture and place slices of pound cake on top, trimming if necessary to cover all the berries. Repeat this process twice more, ending with the remaining berry mixture on top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to allow the berries and cake to meld.
- To serve, whip the heavy whipping cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla in the medium sized mixing bowl until soft peaks form. Remove the Summer Pudding from the refrigerator, take off the plastic wrap and spread the whipped cream decoratively over the pudding. Spoon the pudding into attractive individual serving bowls, and top with additional vanilla ice cream if desired. Refrigerate leftovers.
For the Cookie Crust:
- 1 ½ cups Ginger Snap Crumbs from a box of Nabisco Ginger Snaps
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 6 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 teaspoon lime zest
- 1 teaspoon finely minced candied ginger
- Cooking spray
For the Filling:
- 2 cans, 14 ounces each, sweetened condensed milk
- ½ cup sour cream
- Zest of 2 limes
- ¾ cup lime juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Topping:
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon lime zest for decoration
Sprinkle I cup of toasted sweetened angel flake coconut over the bottom of the baked crust before adding the filling
Add 1 teaspoon of finely minced candied ginger to the filling before pouring it into the crust
Special equipment: 1 nine-inch pie pan, food processor, medium sized glass mixing bowl, 2 glass measuring cups, wire rack, citrus zester, citrus juicer, rubber spatula, medium sized metal mixing bowl, hand-held electric mixer, waxed paper
Makes: 6-8 servings
Preheat oven to 375° F for crust and 350°F for filled pie
- Prepare the lime zest and lime juice in advance: Wash and dry at least 3 large limes. You may need 4 or more, as limes are unpredictable in the amount of juice they will produce. Zest 2 of the limes and wrap the zest in a slightly dampened paper towel to reserve for the filling. Zest the third lime and reserve the zest separately in another damp paper towel to use in the crust and whipped cream topping. Cut each lime in two and squeeze the juice by hand using a citrus juicer. Be patient. Limes do not release their juice as readily as lemons or oranges, and this will require serious hard pressure on your part. Squeeze out every drop you can get until you have ¾ cup of juice. Save the juice in a glass measuring cup and set aside.
- Make the Ginger Snap Crust: Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a microwave safe medium sized mixing bowl. Set aside. Pulse the Ginger Snaps in a food processor until they are pulverized into small crumbs. Transfer the crumbs into another 2-cup measuring cup until you have 1 ½ cups of crumbs. Add the crumbs to the melted butter in the mixing bowl and stir with a rubber spatula. Add 1/3 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of reserved lime zest and 1 teaspoon of finely minced candied ginger and mix until thoroughly combined.
- Lightly spray the bottom and sides of the pie pan with cooking spray. Press the crust mixture into the pie pan and press firmly to cover the bottom evenly and form a uniform crust around the sides and the top rim. You might want to cover the bottom of the crust with a sheet of waxed paper and press hard all around the bottom and sides with the bottom of a jelly jar to make sure all the crumbs are tightly tamped down. Bake for 7 minutes in the pre-heated 375°F oven. Cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes.
- Make the filling: Reduce the oven temperature to 350° F. Wash and dry the glass mixing bowl and add all the filling ingredients: 2 cans (28 ounces) of sweetened condensed milk, 1/2 cup of sour cream, the reserved zest of 2 limes, the reserved ¾ cup of lime juice and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Gently stir with a rubber spatula until the mixture is completely combined. If you wish, add 1 teaspoon of finely chopped candied ginger and mix it well into the filling. If you are adding coconut, sprinkle the toasted coconut over the pie crust.
- When the crust has cooled, gently pour the filling evenly over the crust and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool slightly on the wire rack. When the pie is no longer hot, lay a square of waxed paper gently over the top and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. In a small bowl, combine about 1 teaspoon of sugar with 1 teaspoon of reserved lime zest for the topping and set aside at room temperature. Place the metal mixing bowl and the beaters for the hand-held mixer in the freezer.
- Prepare the topping: A few minutes before serving the pie, remove the mixing bowl and beaters from the freezer and beat the heavy whipping cream just until soft peaks begin to form. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until the peaks are slightly firmer.
Remove the pie from the refrigerator, pull off the waxed paper, and spread the whipped cream over the pie with the rubber spatula, completely covering the top with decorative swirls. Sprinkle the reserved sugared lime zest over the center of the pie and serve immediately. Refrigerate any leftovers.