April is poetry month. At least, so it was in The Before when we set these months aside, chained as we were to calendars. Before all the old folks could no longer recall what unmasked people looked like. Before tents sprouted —the homeless have always been among us but now they are making beds along storied boulevards, as are the foxes and groundhogs, now claiming their rightful place. Before all the parents went squirrely.
My kids are grown up now. Still, I’m with you, parents with kids underfoot, online learning schedules, and messy houses. Over here at Wit’s End, we were once the Messy House Headquarters and there was no pandemic to blame it on. This is the time of year I used to yank my kids out of school for picnics. Mostly to witness magic here for only a whisper. I was strict about some things… like bedtime (I am a bitch without sleep so I insisted on it for my own sake more than theirs)…sibling scraps…road trip games…and poetry.
I made them wear silly hats.
Boys and girls come out to play
The moon does shine as bright as day
Leave your supper and leave your sleep
And join your playfellows in the street
Come with a whoop and come with a call
Come with a good will or not at all
Up the ladder and down the wall
A halfpenny roll will serve us all
You’ll find milk and I’ll find flour
And we’ll have a pudding in half an hour
Years ago, a savvy school librarian pal allowed me into some of her elementary classes to workshop a poetry manuscript: call it a pint-sized focus group, all you marketing mavens. Poetry and kids are, after all, natural partners. Adult cynicism and facades have yet to seize hold. Kids default to belief about mystical wonders.
I’m with the great Romantic poet Shelley:
Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a young poet, making his Auntie proud:
If poetry fails to grab hold, there’s always the kitchen. Make them in charge of half of this delicious Pity-the-Pandemic-because-we-still-have-dessert-and-other-tools-so there– PEAR CRISP.
Make them do the crumble (the fun part). Kids can also peel the pears.
Note: I know pears are an autumn fruit. Readers of my food memoir know I like to bake in season. There is no such thing right now. I am using all my frozen berries now, using pears and apples even if they taste lackluster.
There are no rules anymore.
Yes, baking is math. Science too. As a student, I received gold stars in neither.
See? No rules.
Pear Crisps with dried sour cherries (adapted from renowned pastry chef Claudia Fleming)
What you need:
- 8 ripe pears, peeled, cored, sliced (5 cups)
- 1 cup dried sour cherries
- fruity red wine like Zinfandel (use water if you have none)
- ½ cup granulated sugar, divided
- 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cups toasted almonds*, coarsely ground
- ¼ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- I stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
What you do:
Early on the day you plan to serve the crisps, put the cherries in a small pot and add enough wine (or water) to cover them by 2 inches. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat then turn off the heat and let it cool, leaving it at room temperature for at least 8 hours. Or, do this the night before, and keep them in the fridge overnight.
Drain the cherries and reserve the juice. Resist the urge to drink it (if you have used wine).
Combine the sliced pears and drained cherries in a large bowl. Add half of the granulated sugar (¼ cup) and toss. Then mix in ½ cup of the reserved juices. Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes while you make the crisp topping.
Preheat the oven to 375F. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining ¼ cup of granulated sugar, the flour, toasted almonds, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Slowly drizzle in the melted butter and stir with a fork until the mixture is crumbly. Break up any large crumbs with your fingers. The crumbs should be smaller than 1 inch in size or they won’t cook all the way through.
Spoon the fruit into a large baking dish (2 quart) or individual ramekins. I used a dozen 4-ounce ramekins. If you have any leftover juice left from the soaking liquid, pour a little over each mound of fruit. Evenly sprinkle the crumbs on top of the fruit. Bake the crisps until the filling is bubbling and the topping is browned. 45 to 50 minutes.
Serve hot or room temperature. Add ice cream if you feel generous but this crisp stands without any dressing up.
*Spread whole almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in cold oven; toast at 350 degrees, 12-15 minutes (9-11 minutes for slivered and chopped almonds), until lightly toasted.
from April 2013, Try to praise a mutilated world
Or, also from 2013, a little dirt in leaping greenly
from April 2016, The profane & the sublime
Keep the faith. Make stuff. Embrace jammies.