Summer was a series of random thoughts, urges unencumbered by parental restrictions. The last day of school and we were left to our own devices from then on, basketball in the driveway, hopscotch on the sidewalk, dodge ball in the grass, and kickball in the street were the order of the day, every day. Innocent pleasures, our games were simple back then in the olden days, energy bursting forth with the daylight, children exploding from houses up and down the block to gather in the street and decide what the day would bring. Maybe a bike ride to the public swimming pool or over to the library, Barbies in someone’s living room or board games at the kitchen table. There was order to our summer days, an order only we as children understood, from breakfast until a series of moms stuck their heads out of a row of backdoors to call us all in for dinner, a universal order understood and responded to immediately by each one of us.
Summers of childhood echo throughout the years; the searing white heat of the afternoons, the scorching pavement biting at bare feet, so different from the gentle, temperate summers of the Loire Valley. Those long-ago days of sunshine so bright, white light bouncing off of sidewalks, broken only by the gathering darkness, thunder rumbling in the distance rolling quickly closer, the blackness wrapping her arms around us in a chilly cloak. Children scattering, dashing into various houses to wait out the thunderstorm until, as it does every afternoon at 3:00 like clockwork, the black clouds disperse and the sun breaks through the heavens in a glorious choir of chattering children.
Summers are no longer rambunctious, carefree affairs, days divided between games, punctuated by chilled glasses of Goofy Grape or Yoohoos, highlighted by peanut butter sandwiches eaten sitting in the crooked branches of a favorite tree. We are adults now and as adults we have our most serious of responsibilities, families to care for, healthy meals to be served punctually three times a day. Our children run free, building forts in the backyard when there was one, or building forts fit for imaginary kings and queens on the bare floor of their bedroom, while waiting for Papa to return home in the evening from work. Or later, much later, sons organize their own vacations, getaways with friends while we, he and I, work, planning a short weekend here or there with friends when time permits.
But now, life in the hotel, our work changes the dynamics of summer. No distinct separation between office, suits and meetings and beaches, mountains and swimsuits. No great summer divide, no anticipated break when we slip into shorts and tees and organize that grand getaway. Winter now slides into spring slides into summer easily, thoughtlessly, noiselessly. And we wake up one day and June is nearing its end and we are suddenly immersed in July and we are surprised to find ourselves deep into summer. We work all morning, break for a quiet lunch away from the maddening crowd, lunch not always together, then back to work. Summer is our bread and butter, high season when the hotel is full, guests flow in and out, breakfast, check out, cleaning, jam making and chores, reparations, diy projects. From March to November, we work, snatching at half hours on the sofa or in the warm breeze surrounded by roses on the terrace.
From my desk, I hear the sounds of summer float in through the open windows, chattering guests, the scurrying footsteps of children crunching across the gravel courtyard, the occasional car roaring past, a symphony of birds and bees. The curtains are now pulled to keep the newly arrived heat out and we plan our vacation getaway now in the deep midwinter.
Nothing signals that most important change of season quite like the weather and the produce on the market. Spring, eternal spring, gray, chilly, rainy, dark, clung to the Loire Valley until mid July when summer burst upon us like a bat out of hell, searingly hot, glaringly bright. And just as suddenly, peaches, apricots, nectarines, and cherries burst onto the market at the same time.
Cherries are flooding the market and we so needed something bright, fruity and cool to remind us of what summer could and should be. A cheesecake in a glass, or something very like it, sitting on a cookie “crust” topped with cooked. I am not a cream cheese cheesecake lover and so opted for a ricotta and whipped cream combination, but the ricotta could just as easily be replaced with either cream cheese or mascarpone. The cookie base, which is just crushed cookies, can be equally intriguing using speculoos, chocolate wafers or my crumbly chocolate palets Bretons, as I used. No cherries? Replace with slightly crushed strawberries or other fresh, ripe berries, maybe even with a splash of rum, Grand Marnier o Limoncello added with the sugar. The quantities can be changed easily depending upon how many individual portions you require and how much of each layer you like.
- A scant pound (400 – 500 g) fresh cherries
- 2 tablespoons granulated brown sugar
- 3.5 oz (100 g) vanilla or chocolate Palet Bretons, chocolate wafers, or speculoos
- 1 cup (250 g) ricotta, chilled
- 1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipped cream, chilled
- 2 tablespoons or more powdered/confectioner’s sugar, to taste
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Finely grated zest and juice of ½ orange or 1 lemon, optional
- Place a medium-sized bowl, glass or metal, in the refrigerator along with the beaters of a hand mixer to chill for at least 10 minutes.
- Rinse the cherries; remove and discard the stems and pit. Slice each cherry in half and place in a saucepan with the 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Place the cookies in a large plastic sandwich or freezer bag and, using a rolling pin, crush.
- Place the heavy whipping cream in the chilled bowl and attach the chilled beaters to the hand mixer. Whip the cream until soft peaks form; sift the sugar onto the cream and continue beating until stiff peaks hold.
- Beat in the ricotta cheese about a third at a time until thick and creamy.
- Beat in the vanilla, the orange or lemon if using, and then taste, adding more powdered sugar to taste. Keep in mind that the whipped cream will be eaten with the cooked cherries and cookies so you may not want the cream too sweet.
- Place about ¾ inch of crushed cookies in the bottom of each serving glass. Top with about ¾ inch or so of cooked cherries allowing for a little of the juice to soak down into the cookie crumbs. Spoon or pipe, as I did, the Whipped Ricotta Cream on top of the cherries to fill the glass, or as much or as little as desired, depending upon the height and size of your glasses. Again, you can decide how much of each to add to the glass. You can see from my photos how I chose to do it and I felt that the proportions were excellent.
- Serve immediately or after allowing the juices to soak a little into the cookie crumbs.
- If there are cooked cherries left over or if you make more, place a teaspoonful on top of the cream before serving.