Tuesday, June 29, 2021 9:24 AM
Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” said Henry James. We had our first taste of a real summer afternoon this past week: warm enough for a dip in the local quarry, followed by hot dogs on the grill eaten around a weathered table on a deck overlooking the garden, now approaching blowsy perfection. The pastel lupine and and columbines and mop-headed peonies of springtime are being ushered out by bolder blooms of hotter summer days: by brilliant orange poppies and deep burgundy rugosa roses, yellow California poppies blooming at the feet of Maltese cross, whose scarlet blooms will last into the fall.
I love everything about these New England summers: the green and yellow striped hayfields with their intoxicating smell of fresh cuttings, the fringes of wildflowers along the roadsides — daisies, lady’s bedstraw, deep blue vetch, pink and white clover and buttercups — and, on the island, the deep rumbling of lobster boats as they head out in the pink of pre-dawn, when the air is still fresh and cool, carrying the scent of the sea and roses. I love the ease of summer meals, tossing something on the grill, with fresh corn and tomatoes, salads of all types and simple berry desserts. A young woman in line at the Vinalhaven ferry summed it up perfectly: as she snapped a photo of a friend who leaned, grinning into the sun, against the side of his sleek, slipper-sized sports car, she crowed, “Summer doesn’t have to be any better than this!” James couldn’t have said it better.
Still, I fantasize about those languid Jamesian summer afternoons in a more temperate English climate, with cream tea served to linen-clad Brits who relax under the shade of an enormous tree. Croquet is set up on the sheep-trimmed lawn that gently undulates down to a river or reed-trimmed pond where a punt or small dory awaits the more adventurous. I can picture the tiered china stand filled with sweet and savory treats — egg and cress or cucumber sandwiches, petit fours, tiny scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, the latter being almost like butter, but better.
Since the jam and cream toppings are so rich and sweet, English scones tend to be more biscuit-like in flavor and texture, and are made smaller than the supersized American versions served in coffee shops. With strawberry season full upon us, strawberry butter is a perfect topping for a scone, whether served for breakfast or cream tea, especially lemon-rosemary scones. Strawberry butter can also be frozen, a delicious way to preserve the harvest.
21⁄4 cups flour
1⁄3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3⁄4 tsp. sea salt
zest of 1 lemon, finely grated or chopped
11⁄2 sticks cold butter, cubed
3⁄4 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing
In a food processor, pulse flour with 1⁄3 cup of sugar, rosemary, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in 3⁄4 cup of cream until a shaggy dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and lightly knead until it comes together. Gently roll the dough into a 14-inch log, wrap in wax paper or plastic and refrigerate for one hour or until firm. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the log into eight rounds and transfer to the baking sheet. Brush scones with cream and sprinkle generously with sugar. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until golden. Let cool slightly before serving.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt
1⁄2 cup hulled and coarsely chopped fresh strawberries
Using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar and salt until light, about one minute. Add strawberries and beat until combined, but not totally uniform. Transfer to small serving dishes. Chill until ready to serve, or transfer to two sheets of plastic wrap, roll each into a log, and freeze up to two months. Thaw before using, and serve at room temperature.
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