Ciao'd during a heat wave. Everybody in the pool!
My mother is a voracious reader. When I was young, our bookshelves were lined with Book-of-the-Month Club picks, Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, and selections from her Book Club. The outlier was an anthology of Robert Frost’s poems. Inside the cover, which had faded from jade green to the hue of a succulent garden, my mother had written to my father, in fountain pen ink the color of blueberries, "To Joe, for your love of Robert Frost and my love for you." It was dated 1961, the year before they married.
I’m sure you’re familiar with Robert Frost, if not for his oeuvre (fancy pants word!), then for his poem, “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening.” Chances are good you read it in high school English class. All together now: “Whose woods these are I think I know…”
When I came upon the Frost anthology, I was in my early teens. It riveted me as much for his plain-spoken yet vivid verse as for my mother's inscription. Until then, I had not thought about my parents' private life, not to mention their lives before the two as a couple became the six of us as a family. I had rarely seen my dad read anything other than the newspaper, Time, and Newsweek, with an occasional turn through Life magazine.
I never asked my Dad why he liked Robert Frost. Don’t ask me why. Instead, I read the poems. Frost "talked" his poetry, neither tethered to rhyme nor traditional verse forms . Each poem was a little story voiced in the New England vernacular and grounded in nature. Apple-picking in the fall. Birch branches bending under the winter ice. Blueberries "as big as the end of your thumb." And titles like “Fireflies in the Garden” and “Pasture” and “Mowing.” See ya Robert McCloskey (Blueberries for Sal, etc.); I'm leaving you for the other Robert.
Later on, when I went to college and majored in poetry, we dissected Frost’s poems. Nature as a metaphor for the human condition (not always good). But that's the beauty of poetry. You can read a poem and understand it intellectually, but you can read a poem and soar emotionally, too.
I’m guessing my dad liked Robert Frost for the same reasons I did. To be swept away from your practical reality and immersed in a vivid expression of nature and life that resonates with you deep down and all around? Well, that’s magic.
A few years ago, before my father began his one-way journey down the road to Alzheimer’s, he sent me a package. It was full of poems I had written throughout my life, some celebrating something nice, others mourning lost relatives or fleeting puppy loves, along with the fussiness of my college oeuvre (there’s that word again). My dad kept them ALL.
So, here’s to nature and New England. Blueberries aren’t just for Sal.
BLUEBERRY MASCARPONE FOOL
Fool is a classic English dessert of puréed fruit and whipped cream. I’m not sure why it’s called fool. I think it’s because anybody can make it and in no time flat. Here, blueberries play with rich cream and mascarpone cheese. A dash of fruit liqueur such as Chambord or crème de cassis brings out the flavor of the berries.
1 cup blueberries, plus more for garnish
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fruit liqueur such as crème de cassis
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup mascarpone, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Mint leaves, for garnish
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the 1 cup blueberries with 1/3 cup water and simmer until the berries soften, about 10 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of the sugar and the liqueur and stir. Remove from the heat and chill for an hour or so.
With a mixer on medium speed, whip the cream in a large bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. In a small bowl, whisk the mascarpone to soften it and then fold into the cream. Gently fold in the blueberries and lemon zest.
Divide the fool among glasses or bowls (preferably chilled), garnish with blueberries, and serve immediately. Fool tastes best when it is served cold. Maybe like revenge? (Sorry, couldn't contain myself.)