There are times in life when I am painfully aware that I wasn’t born in this country. As a foreign-born person, one misses a whole lot of things that U.S.-born people take for granted.
Take this conversation I had with Bill, a good friend and a very talented percussionist who plays in my husband’s band. The musicians were over for dinner before last Sunday’s gig at the Turning Point in Piermont. Before long, the conversation drifted to food.
“Liz [Bill’s wife] planted all kinds of fruit trees in our backyard” he says proudly. They have a beautiful home in downtown Nyack. “We have cherries, apples and even service berries” he gloats.
“What on earth are service berries?!” I blurted out… feeling there was a good chance I’d just said something stupid.
Two days later, only minutes before yet another gig, this time at The Living Room in the East Village, he handed me a little plastic box wrapped with blue masking tape. Written on the tape were the words: “service berries”! If the box hadn’t been so tightly wrapped I would have dived right in!
Fortunately I didn’t and was able to exercise a bit more restraint the next morning. I did taste a couple and thought they were deliciously sweet, ever-so-slightly tart… and immediately thought I should bake a cake with them.
Here’s a little more info: Amelanchier, a native plant of North America, are found in all the states except Hawaii. There are 20 species of this lovely small tree, also know as Serviceberries, Juneberry, Shagbush, Sarvisberry, shadblow and Saskatoon (I like the sound of this one!) The berries usually become ripe in June and they are a favorite of birds… I’ll have to add myself to that list.
Serviceberry and poppy seed cake
makes 1 loaf
active time: 30 min
- 2 cups serviceberries (or blueberries)
- 2 tablespoons Cassis liqueur
- 3/4 cup organic sugar
- 2 cups organic unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
- 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (4 oz) (115 g) – at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (use a microplane grater)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 3 extra large eggs – at room temperature
- 1/3 cup sliced almonds
- 1 – 9″ x 5″ x 3″ non-stick loaf pan – buttered, lined with wax paper and buttered again
- Preheat oven to 350°F (180ºC).
- Step 1: Place the berries, liqueur and 1/4 cup of sugar in a medium bowl. Stir well and set aside.
- Step 2: Place the flour, 1/4 cup of sugar, baking powder, poppy seeds and salt in a medium bowl. Stir well and set aside.
- Step 3: Place the soft butter, balance of sugar (1/4 cup), lemon zest and lemon juice in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat at slow speed until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat at medium speed until well incorporated and smooth. Add the flour mixture and gently fold in with a wooden spoon until barely incorporated. Add the berry mixture and fold until just moistened.
- Step 4: Spoon the batter into the prepared mold. Garnish with the almond slices. Bake for 65 to 70 minutes until golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before un-molding. Loosen the cake by gently pulling up on the wax paper and then lift it from pan. Cool on racks until warm or room temperature, then peel off the wax paper. Serve on its own or with a little crème fraîche.
- Cook’s note: The cake will keep for 2 to 3 days in a cool place, but is better the day it’s made.