Sweet Corn Pots de Creme with Strawberry Compote
rather serious trauma in May, I began to have trouble with memory, a power of the brain that, as I've learned, is really pretty paramount to being a functional human. Sometimes a common word like "poster" simply won't come to me; I call places by the wrong name; I ask Dan the same question repeatedly; I leave burners on long after I'm done making a cup of tea. And, as often as not, the frustration that comes with realizing what is happening to my mind brings me to tears.
I met up with Beth for the second time in early June. I might start hysterically crying for no apparent reason, I warned her immediately when I arrived to pick strawberries at Valley Home Farm in Wartrace, Tennessee. I can't think of anyone better than me to have a crying fit in front of, she replied. Chatting and sweating and snapping photos, I quickly came to believe her. Beth is the type of Southern woman that is grossly underrepresented in popular culture. She is infinitely kind and generous, stern in her opinions, and she embraces a level of honesty which is perhaps beyond comfort for many people. We both grew up in Chattanooga, went to the same high school, and, driven by a misplaced contempt for Southern culture, we cut out of town for a good long while. But here we were again, talking about biscuits, no less. As Beth likes to say, she boomeranged back to Tennessee.
All the while, the clouds hung low in the sky, undecided. The rain finally fell when we left the farm. When I hit the highway. When it was sure to bring me anxiety and tears. I drove slower than molasses in winter and Beth beat me back to my own house by half an hour or more.
Shortly after we got back to Nashville, I felt better. It's disgustingly heartwarming how being surrounded by laughter and pumped full of champagne (spiked with honeysuckle syrup) can lift a girl's spirits. What followed was a night of surely destined culinary collaboration and slumber party-esque truth telling. Oh, and such glorious food! Spaghetti with browned butter, strawberry and balsamic sauce, cabbage and lentil salad, and a my favorite food of all time: fresh bread, buttered in a near pornographic manner by a handsome, bearded man.
I made dessert, a once-in-a-blue-moon dessert. Normally my mind constantly churns over possible routes to improvement, even after I have finalized a recipe. This dessert, well, not so much. When I tasted the pots de creme, I was astonished that I had made something so...stimulating. The custard is as rich and silky as they come, with the deep sweetness of corn; the compote, slowly spreading across the taught surface of the custard to form a panel of crimson stained glass, is slightly tart and acidic, with the bright sweetness of freshly picked berries.
In one foul bite I faced the reality of my genius and my delirium: I had made a remarkable dessert and didn't remember a thing about its construction, like waking up from a wonderful dream with only a loose grasp on what it entailed. You have Beth and Rebekka to thank for watching me make the whole thing and filling me in on what I had done.
Sweet Corn Pots de Creme
2 cups half and half
kernels from two ears of corn
1/2 cup raw cane sugar
6 egg yolks at room temp
pinch of sea salt (about 1/8 teaspoon)
6 four ounce ramekins
1. Preheat oven to 300.
2. Place kernels, cream and sugar in a sauce pan and heat over medium low for half an hour. Bring mixture to a gentle simmer for an additional 15 minutes, being careful not to boil. Pulse in a blender until there are no longer large chunks of corn. Pour through a fine mesh sieve to strain. Slowly stream mixture into egg yolks, whisking constantly.
3. Place ramekins in a baking dish with enough water to cover them half way. Pour cream mixture into ramekins and bake for 30-45 minutes, or until set. Chill before serving. Top with compote.
1 pint strawberries*
1/4 cup honey
juice and zest of one lime
Combine lime and honey in a small pot and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Add strawberries and simmer for another 10-15 minutes, or until berries are soft. Adjust sweetness and acidity to your liking. Maybe throw in a pinch of sea salt. Serve warm or cooled, but not hot. Call it "coulis" if you're feeling fancy.
*I'd imagine you could use any berry you like, fresh or frozen. Blackberries and corn are a particularly delicious duo.