Quite some time ago, there was a place in my heart, reserved specifically for one. This soupçon of the soul trickled through my blood, seeped its’ way into my brain, and cozied up, making an unwavering presence in my life. I was, or so I thought, in the enamoring, heart-swelling, life-embracing trenches of childhood love. But as love goes, the place in my heart was quietly punctured with needlepoint, and as the swelling went down, my lover drifted away in tandem. For a while, I spent countess nights in despair, tossing myself about under the covers with thoughts and feelings that were just as tousled; remembering the seemingly everlasting nights I had spent in that exact spot, absorbing every word as we sunk into the blithe of the night.
Those nights held magic. Secrets were unleashed. Devils rose from the pits of hell itself, and angels' song rained down in storms of dignified glory and tarnishing shame. Stories were told with such ardor that the soft sheets on which I lied became fields of amethyst-colored poppies, and the still night air would infuse with the scent of wildflowers. There were times of serenity, when my eyelids would drop into a deep slumber, while my heart remained upright, beating, and content. Other times, I would become a sensitive wreck; wild-eyed, clammy hands clenching the covers into bunches, heart racing under chilled bones, my blood-shot eyes squelching out tear after tear, until I eventually dried out and fell asleep in my wretched state. The connection between us, somehow, managed to tame the beast inside of me and allure it out at the same time. I think, now, that is what I’ve missed most.
My aficionada- my shelter, my darling, my passion- recently weaseled their way back into my life. After too many put downs, once-poetic sentences became snarled, my attention dwindled, the amethyst poppies withered, and as the nights became longer, we spent less and less time together. But, recently, they arrived on my doorstep in the form of a package; embossed with a stamp, a to, and a from. Inside, I unwrapped the package, folding away the tresses of gossamer tissue-paper, until its’ contents were exposed.
“Nigel,” I gasped.
The cover was smooth to the touch as I brushed my hands across his name. Following that, was the single word Ripe, etched across the cover in golden italics. It was Nigel Slater’s cookbook that lie before me, in its’ 591 paged glory, waiting to be devoured in the same way I perused through other books on those ephemerally unforgettable nights.
Yes; my adoration for reading has returned. I’ve become smitten with my childhood beloved all over again. Something within me stirred, the written word stepped forward to soothe it, and I was in no position to suppress the temptation. For when my own words fail, I find refuge in those of others.
As my new-found collection of books grows, I continue to hold Ripe above the rest. In theory, Ripe is a cookbook, complete with recipes, notations, and pictures- all involving fruit. But, in reality, when it comes down to the last crumb, Nigel Slater’s book is much more than that. It’s a story written in the blood-red and shady indigo ink of blackberries, boysenberries, and strawberries. Not just the tale of “a cook in the orchard” (as it reads on the cover), but the hard-churned, unsweetened, bona fide chronicles of a writer, photographer, gardener, and master chef, cooking and weeding his way through life with only a set of utensils and the time-warped branch of a walnut tree (among other bushes and shrubs) to lean on.
Upon finishing the introduction, I was moved to tears. The first chapter, written solely on apples, gathered up my perspective on food, chopped it into bits, smashed it down to a pulp, threw in a pinch of inspiration and a sprinkle of muse, and now continues to churn it all about; as if my thoughts were the fruit that Nigel so humbly writes about, and he was deadest on perfecting his “deeply appley apple crumble” (Even though, according to his foreword on the recipe, the deed has already been done.) When I finally digested the first chapter, my head still dizzy with varieties of apples unheard of, like Esopus Spitzenburg, Blenheim Orange, and Colloggett Pippin, I devoured, and continue to devour, page after page, fruit after fruit, recipe after recipe, and delectable word after word.
Simply put, Ripe is a treasure to indulge in. Whether you’re looking for a something to read, something to bake, something to inspire, or just something to stir up long-lost loves, feelings, or senses; treat yourself to this book.
These hushed pages unravel a food revolution in slow-motion. They take you from the bulbs and seeds of a garden, planted in the blistering cold of the last frost; to the foraging of fat and sun-ripened berries, both sweet and tart in their opulence; and, finally, into the kitchen, where the possibilities truly are endless; where blueberries and peppercorns adorn thick, woodsy slabs of venison; where charcoaled apples, lathering over with snow-white froth, their hollows nesting pools of amber-molten syrup, aromatic walnuts and cloves, and pungent hunks of yellowed cheese; and where blackberries accompany bowls of oats and silken cream, staining the ashen milk with winelike swirls.
Fruit and cheese has always seemed like a small obscurity; a secret that I savor for myself, but have often been questioned about in the past. For quite some time, I’ve kept my lips sealed, rather than passing them over with pears smeared in gorgonzola and honey, or bits of apple wrapped in razor-sharp cheddar. But, after reading of Nigel’s fondness for a bowl of blackberries, nestled pertinently against piquant samplings of goats’ yogurt, my intuitions feel more dignified, and just as Nigel has so deeply illustrated his recipes to me, I’m pleased to share this recipe with you.
Nestled among billows of hot, portly oats, blackberries make a striking appearance. Like a dream, their inky flesh warms and bursts in tricklings of wine-colored juice, saturating the entire bowl with their essence and hue. The petite seeds that rest between their orbs- the same seeds that you’ll often find in the fibers of your toothbrush after eating a few- are more or less appreciated here, where they provide a pleasing chew against the creamy oats. First bite, the seeds play on your tongue, but are quickly taken up in the thick wave of grain and dairy to follow. A small, yet salient, crumbling of goats’ cheese adds the perfect amount of tang against the sweet berries. The combination is decadent, savory, and honey-sweet at the same time. With an (optional) sprig of basil for balance, and perhaps a scattering of walnuts or pistachios, this bowl of oatmeal is truly outstanding. I highly recommend a steaming cup of coffee and a book or newspaper to accompany. Enjoy.
½ cup oats
Pinch of salt
1 cup liquid (I highly recommend some sort of milk, but water, or a combination, will suffice.)
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp. honey, plus a drizzle for the top (Brown sugar, maple syrup, and agave work well here.)
basil, to taste (optional)
3 tbsp. goat cheese (more or less)
handful of blackberries, halved
additional toppings (walnuts, pistachios, extra milk, flax, etc.)
Bring the oats, salt, and liquid to a boil in a pot. Stir while the oats begin to absorb the liquid. When thick, add in the vanilla and honey. If using, stir in the basil.
Once the desired thickness is reached, crumble in about half of the goat cheese. Swirl it so that it begins to melt into hot oatmeal.
Transfer to a bowl, and top with the rest of the cheese, the blackberries, and any additional toppings. Drizzle with extra honey. Enjoy.