Voracious this year is celebrating our local farmers markets with a series of poems extolling what's newly ripe and ready for sale. Each week during market season, we'll run a poem from a local poet who's found inspiration in the region's bounty. And should you find yourself feeling similarly inspired after reading their odes to romaine lettuce, nectarines, pea vines and gooseberries, the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance has provided us with recipes featuring each of the edible muses.
Poetry about produce sounds like a fairly apolitical genre. But when poet Kate Lebo called up the Wikipedia entry she planned to selectively erase to create her poem about marionberries, she discovered the fruit's story starts and ends with politics.
A marionberry, as the entry states right up top, never served as the top executive in Washington D.C.: Marion Barry has his own Wikipedia page. And the marionberry is not the state fruit of Oregon, because the state legislature - initially unanimous in its support of a bill bestowing the title - is wary of upsetting a blackberry farmer who claims the designation could hurt the sales of other blackberry varietals.
But for farmers market shoppers who score a pint of marionberries during their month-long season, now underway, there's nothing the least bit contentious about the tart, shiny berry, which was engineered to outgrow and outjuice other cultivars. The berries are so fat and sweet that the University of Oregon (presumably in the years before the NCAA vigilantly policed gifts) once tried to lure football players to campus with marionberry syrups and jams - which might count as controversial if you're a Huskies fan.
Summer Berry Bread Pudding Adapted from Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables by Elizabeth Schneider
Adapted from Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables by Elizabeth Schneider
Note: The currants are essential but the other berries can be anything you like: Marionberries, blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries... This needs to chill overnight, so make it the day before serving.
1 quart red currants, rinsed and stemmed
3 T water
1 quart Marion berries (or other berries)
½ to ¾ c sugar
1 loaf firm, close-grained white bread (slightly sweet breads such as Jewish challah are esp. delicious)
Crème fraiche or whipped heavy cream
Optional: Fresh or candied flowers for decoration (e.g., violets, roses)
Combine currants and water in a saucepan; bring to a boil, covered. Turn heat low and simmer 2 minutes. Uncover and cook another minute, just until soft.
Press cooked currants and liquid through a fine sieve or food mill, discarding seeds. Return currant puree to saucepan; add other berries and 1/2 cup sugar and boil, stirring, just until crystals dissolve. Taste and add more sugar, as needed. Cook just until berries have softened somewhat.
Slice bread 1/4 inch thick and trim off crust. Line bottom and sides of 6 cup bowl or soufflé dish with slices, cutting as needed to fit together tightly.
Poor berry mixture over bread slices; cover with enough remaining bread slices cut to fit.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap. On top of this set a bowl, pot top, or dish slightly smaller than the rim of your mold, and place a 3 to 4 pound weight on it. Refrigerate for about a day.
When ready to serve, remove the top weight and run a knife around the edge of the pudding, and flip it onto a platter with a rim (to hold juices). Cut pudding into slices and top each serving with cream and flowers.