Spring seemed to play hide and seek this year. So after many weeks of waiting for the freeze warnings and rain to cease it was delightful to begin to smell honeysuckle vines blooming and get out and pick beautiful red strawberries. We were so fortunate to have fresh berries available at the market just in time for a cooking class along with freshly made honeysuckle syrup.
For those of you unfamiliar with honeysuckle syrup, it’s just what you imagine and more! This is one of my all-time favorite items in the freezer. If you are not up to making it and happen to be in Durham, I noticed a few quart containers for sale at Scratch when I visited their shop last week. It’s worth trying once in your tea, mixed in with strawberries or peaches and drizzled over ice cream, or blended with other fresh fruit reductions and mixed with soda water for a refreshing drink on a hot afternoon. Remember to buy some crushed ice for this last treat, or make snow cones from the winter’s frozen snow. Yes, it’s crazy, but I have snow in my freezer at home. It delights the neighbors’ children to no end to eat it in the middle of warm weather.
Let me mention that Carrboro Farmers’ Market has a couple of new things going on this year for kids. First, there’s the small series of cooking classes, which filled up several weeks ago! And second, there’s a program called “The Market Bunch” that allows kids to earn Market Bucks to spend with vendors. They do this by just trying new foods and playing scavenger games at the market each week! It runs from June 6 through July 29th, so sign up the next time you are visiting to play along. And don’t forget to check out the wagon of cookbooks available to use for free. Bring some of your old ones to exchange while you’re there.
One of the tools that I have been using this past year is a computer web application from IBM called Chef Watson, which you can sign in and use for free now too. When I began working on the recipes for this class, my goal was to incorporate the honeysuckle syrup into the recipe for strawberry and ricotta pancakes using local eggs and possibly something like hibiscus flowers for some fun color and tart flavor. After a brief chat with the folks at Chapel Hill Creamery during market one afternoon, they suggested I try out Quark to replace ricotta and promptly sent me home with a container. It did not disappoint in texture or flavor, and it has gone right to the top of my ‘favorites’ list. It’s perfect to use with either savory or sweet dishes, much like chevre, this cheese hails from Germany. I can imagine using it in raviolli or blended with honey next to a side of fresh fruit. It’s amazing and you can get it during the spring at either the Durham or Carrboro Farmers’ Markets, but check with the dairy to reserve it, as it sells out.
It’s wonderful to have the kids in class experiment a little with both flavors and cooking techniques to find what best fits their taste. My grandmother never really measured anything properly, but taught me to measure dry ingredients in my hand or by approximating the volume in a bowl. This technique generally works for cooking savory dishes but sometimes baking or desserts require more exact measurements. Still, it’s fun to show the kids how to get close to the correct measurement in a pinch, like when you forget to pack the measuring spoons. It happens, but fortunately pancakes are forgiving.
As we combined the ingredients, it was pretty obvious that I made a typing error when I was transferring the recipe for the market to print. Instead of 1 full cup of milk, I typed in 1/4 cup, which was the amount I used in the test batch. Big mistake, but easily corrected and a good teaching moment for the kids to see what a batter should and should not look like. Hopefully they will remember that when they start making up their own recipes.
Another fun opportunity and skill to learn is egg separation. This recipe and many other waffle and egg recipes call for beaten egg whites so the final result is lighter with the incorporation of extra air. One of the participants on Saturday was more experienced, so she demonstrated how to separate eggs just using her hands and delivered 2 beautifully separated eggs. She went on to use a “cage” whisk to beat the whites in just a matter of minutes to perfection. A cage whisk looks like a very large balloon whisk with an extra ball whisk stuck inside. It doubles the amount of air you can whip into the whites or cream in about half of the normal time. This single tool can make all the difference in the world in getting fast, reliable results when it counts.
Our class was small enough to allow plenty of time for everyone to enjoy each step of the process. From slicing and mixing to working with hot cast iron pans and a flames blowing out with the morning breeze. We had a great time and it passed too quickly.
The kids also took the opportunity to also add peach jam and blackberry jam to small portions of the batter. They were able to try combining different flavors and tasting the results. Peach, strawberry & honeysuckle were clear favorites of the group. Hopefully they will be able to modify the recipe throughout the summer with all of the different fruits available. And of course, what would cooking be without the tasting part! Yes, everyone had a chance to try out every combination!
- 2-3 pints of fresh strawberries, cleaned and sliced
- 1 cup honeysuckle syrup
- 2 egg yolks (large chicken eggs or duck eggs)
- 1 cup whole milk or cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons honey (spring or early summer pull of honey)
- 1/2 cup Quark, full fat (Chapel Hill Creamery)
- 2 teaspoons melted & cooled butter with salt
- 2 egg whites, whipped until stiff
- 1 cup pastry flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (aluminum-free)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- In a bowl, combine the honeysuckle syrup and strawberries and let sit while you are making your pancakes. For a bit of variation, when you make the honeysuckle syrup, you can add a flower or two of dried hibiscus which will be a little tart like a cranberry.
- In a second large bowl combine the egg yolks, milk, vanilla, honey, Quark and cooled butter. Stir until well blended.
- Using a sifter or mesh strainer, sift the flour, baking powder and salt directly into the liquid egg yolk mixture.
- Using a stiff whisk, blend the dry with the wet until it’s very smooth.
- In a third smaller bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff.
- Gently fold the stiff egg whites into the liquid batter.
- Heat a cast iron griddle or pan on medium low heat until it is fairly warm, not smoking hot.
- Add a bit of coconut oil or butter to the pan and as soon as it finishes melting, add the pancake batter until it’s about the size of your palm and not too large to flip when it is half-finished cooking.
- As the pancake begins to brown on the bottom side and bubbles appear on the top side of the pancake, flip the pancake to finish cooking the second side. Another minute and the pancake should be finished cooking through.
- Serve with a topping of the fresh strawberries and honeysuckle syrup.
As a quick housekeeping note, our photographs were taken by Casey Boone, a local NC photographer. Check out her other work at www.caseyboone.com. She owns this work, and it is protected by copyright, so please ask first permission before reproducing the images.