Midsummer is the most evocative of times, that “school’s out *hallelujah*! ” feeling still hasn’t disappeared even as I hit my thirties (or as I like to say, entering my prime). As a kid Mama & Papa Johansen dispatched me to visit the Johansen elders in Aurland, a tiny village nestled in one of the most picturesque parts of western Norway at the end of a long fjord surrounded by rather foreboding mountains. This is Peer Gynt country, or so Norwegians would have you believe, where mischief and melody reign. Midsummers in Aurland were spent hiking through the valleys, fishing in the Aurlandsfjord, and foraging for wild strawberries. Aside from all this frolicking in the wild we grandchildren generally putzed around on the farm, picking fruit and playing games and pestering my grandmother for her delicious sour cream waffles. Let’s not mention the model-esque and seriously evil aunts, suffice to say they make Attila the Hun look like a gentle soul.
I often get asked how fruit can possibly grow in Scandinavia. “Um, it’s not the North Pole” I reply, indeed midsummer days are so long that it never gets dark. The extra UV light coupled with a temperate climate during summer makes the region ideal for growing plump summer fruit such as strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, plums, apples, pears…you get the idea. Nothing will ever taste as good as my grandfather’s crimson Senga Sengana strawberries, the fecundity of his crops enhanced with what he called “super-dung” from the neighbouring farmers. Lord knows what his turbo-powered fertilizer contained but I’ve yet to find fruit as rich in flavour over here as the kind I grew up with in Aurland.
So in this vein of nostalgia I spend every June hunting down the best strawberries this side of the North Sea. Thus far, between M&S, Waitrose, Riverford Organic and Whole Foods the latter’s strawberry supplier wins hands-down. Typically as I mention this I’ve realised the Whole Foods strawberry carton and label have been thrown out but you’ll have to take my word for it: delicious, juicy and intensely fragrant English strawberries, just as nature intended.
Being a purist I tend to stick to strawberries n’ cream this time of year. Why adulterate good produce, especially in this sultry London weather, when something like clotted cream from Rodda’s acts as the perfect foil for ripe strawberries? But even I, committed clotted cream fan that I am, draw the line at cream for breakfast and save it for afternoon tea or a midnight snack (I kid you not, cream has replaced my cheese addicion during these warmer months).
So here’s what I did with a recent batch of strawberries:
“Pomegranate molasses?!” Oh yes. Bored with the quotidien honey, I drizzled some pomegranate molasses over my breakfast and let me tell you dear reader, this may just be the most inspired decision I’ve made all year. Well, at least this week. The tartness of the pomegranate molasses matches perfectly with the nutty, crunchy, skinny-dip-in-the-sea wholesomeness of Rude Health’s granola and lifted the sum of this dish to something much much greater than its virtuous parts.
Try it, you won’t be disappointed.
As if that wasn’t the breakfast of champions, then this next dish is the brunch to end all brunches:
The combination of bacon and maple syrup repels some people but being part-Yankee I love it. If strawberries remind me of summers spent on the west coast of Norway, pancakes remind me of later teenage summers spent on the east coast of the U.S. I have a less pulchritudious but no less evil aunt over there; not been lucky with the aunts sadly. Summers in New England, however, were blissful in every other respect. I love the people there, the food, the sea, the history.
Anyway enough nostalgia. This recipe is an Anglo-Scandi hybrid between Fiona Beckett’s in The Ultimate Student Cookbook and Trina Hahnemann’s in the Nordic Diet and it works a treat. Incidentally the buttermilk helps raise the pancakes as they’re cooking due to the buttermilk’s inherent acidity combining with the alkaline bicarbonate of soda. Things get a little combustible, and that’s what you want in a good pancake batter. You could of course use milk and add a generous squirt of lemon juice to acidulate the milk if you don’t have buttermilk to hand.
Spelt & blueberry buttermilk pancakes with bacon and maple syrup
Ingredients for 2 people
- 100 g wholemeal spelt flour
- 50 g plain spelt flour
- 4 tsp golden caster sugar
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 large egg
- 250 ml buttermilk
- 40g melted butter
- 1 small punnet blueberries
- 6 rashers of streaky bacon
- Maple syrup (I got some Grade D unrefined syrup from the health food shop, tasted fine)
In a large bowl sift all the dry ingredients except the blueberries. In a smaller bowl mix the egg, buttermilk, melted butter and stir through with a fork. Make a well in the bowl with the dry ingredients and add the liquid, stirring constantly so you get an even batter. Add the blueberries. The batter should be quite a thick consistency; when you lift the fork it should take a second or two to drop. I couldn’t find a ladle for dropping the batter in the skillet but this cheeky espresso cup did the trick:
Next heat a pancake skillet or non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and smudge with the leftover melted butter. Place a small ladle or an espresso-cup full of batter on the pan and cook for a minute or so until bubbles appear:
Now, using a spatula flip the pancake over and cook for a further 45 seconds-1 minute. Remove from the pan and keep in a warming oven (50-75 C) while you cook the rest.
Fry the bacon over a medium heat until crisp, remove from the pan and if the bacon’s quite large break into pieces and sprinkle over your pancakes before pouring obscene amounts of maple syrup all over the plate. This isn’t fine dining, don’t be precious about pigging out.
What do you think? Any cracking breakfast or brunch ideas? I’d love to hear what you treat yourself to on midsummer weekends!
In the meantime have a great remainder of this weekend, I’m off to sift through the excellent Camper Van Cookbook competition recipe entries…