Summer Lessons

I have a friend who is coming once a week through the summer to help me in the garden. Last week, she and I went to town on the evil ivy hedge that lines one edge of our property. I hate ivy. It's drought resistant, it grows like a weed in the sun or shade, and it makes a lush bank all year long. Why, then, do I hate it? It sneaks like a cursed wraith into every nook and cranny it can snake its searching vines inside. It suddenly pops up out of the ground three feet from the rest of the plant. It provides a home for rats and skunks and raccoons, and did I mention rats? In a month, it will overtake anything growing near it. And, it is nearly impossible to kill.

So, every six months or so, I attack it with whatever cutting tool I have on hand. I whack it back into temporary submission and pull out as many of its branches as I can. When I'm done, it looks tame for a week or so.

Last week, we started in morning shade shearing, cutting, and pulling up as much as we could of the ivy. My friend, not a curser, began picking up some of my potty mouth as the morning wore on, the shade wore away, and we got more and more dusty, overheated, and exhausted. I worried that my friend might never want to come and help me again after such hard work. After we finished a good section of the hedge, we went on to do the relatively easy and much more enjoyable tasks of planting dent corn and repotting a few indoor orchids.

At the end of our work time last week, I asked my friend what she had learned in the course of the day.

She told me this: "Never, ever plant ivy in the ground."


If I had a summer kitchen intern, one of the first things that I would teach him or her would be how to make frangipane. It is the opposite of trimming the ivy hedge. It takes very little work with a huge payoff. Adding frangipane to a summer fruit tart immediately ups the oooooooh and aaaaaaah factor exponentially, yet it is such a breeze to make. It gives anyone with access to good fruit and an excellent pie crust recipe the guise of accomplishment in the kitchen.

I've made frangipane many, many times, and most recipes are nearly identical: almonds, sugar, butter, egg, a bit of flour for binding, and almond extract to boost the nuts' flavor. A couple years ago, I stopped worrying about using blanched almonds. I like the effect of leaving the skin on; the skins add to the oatmeal color of the paste, they don't detract in any way from the flavor, and whole raw almonds are much cheaper and less fiddly than blanched almonds. Recently, in a Martha Stewart video clip, I noticed that she adds dark rum to her frangipane recipe when she makes pithiviers. I include it in the recipe below because I liked its effect; it definitely deepens the almond flavor. As well, though most recipes don't call for it, I add a healthy pinch of salt to round out the richness of the recipe.

You will need:
2/3 cup whole skin-on almonds, toasted (place in a skillet on medium heat for a couple minutes, tossing them around a bit in the pan until they begin to smell fragrant and get toasted spots)
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons soft butter
1 egg
1 tablespoon dark rum
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
healthy pinch of salt

To make the frangipane:
The food processor is your friend, here. Drop the almonds and the sugar in a food processor, and whirl until the mixture is finely ground. Add all the rest of the ingredients, and whirl until smooth.

Yes, it is that easy.

Place the mixture in the refrigerator until your crust is rolled out and ready to be spread with frangipane. When I use it in a fruit tart, I make my favorite pie crust recipe, roll the crust out, fold over the edges to make a bit of a pastry plate, smear on the frangipane, add some sliced fruit, sprinkle with sugar, then bake the whole thing for an hour, or until the top edges are browning nicely. You might even consider making a double batch and keeping one of the batches in the freezer, ready to have on hand when you want to build a dessert worthy of the perfect summer peaches and plums.


AJK said…
That looks like a perfect 4th of July dessert to me!
Cafe Pasadena said…
Just wundering: who planted your Ivy??
Christina said…
AJK: I hope it urns out well for you.

Cafe Pasadena: Someone long, long ago--the roots are as big as my upper arms. Perhaps the original owner of the house planted it in 1947. I do like to imagine the people who have lived here and the lives they made for themselves.
Christina said…
AJK: Ack! *turns*
Anonymous said…
Algerian ivy is such a cruel joke.
michelle said…
Rats! Don't get me started...

There's one redeeming quality to all that ivy, an endless supply of material for the compost bin.

The frangipane would be perfect for an apricot tart. Yum!
Gina said…
Yes, ivy is satan's plant! We have it along every border of our backyard along with morning glory and some sort of evil, thorny fern.

And I have actually found that it doesn't compost all that well so it goes into the yard waste bin at our house.

But frangipane, that is all sorts of lovely. I have a whole bunch of plums from a neighbor and that might be the perfect use for them.
elizabeth said…
My husband just brought home a box of nectarines, so I'll make my first frangipane. Could you share the recipe for your favorite pie crust?
the good soup said…
I've got my own ivy equivalent: madeira vine. Some nut decided it was a great ornamental vine to import to Australia but it is the nastiest vine I've had the displeasure to know. Every last bit of its vine will take root, and it also produces these green cancer like tubers that it drops all over the ground, which will all sprout. If I leave it for even a month, it'll will travel 5 meters in either direction, strangling small trees as it goes. I hate it hate it hate it.
I do, on the other hand, LOVE frangipane. Haven't made it since I was working in Petershams Nurserie Cafe in London. There we made a gorgeous hazelnut version, and a dash of frangelico...
Christina said…
AH: Indeed.

Michelle: I can't put it in the compost--when I've tried, it has just rooted. And yes, the frangipane goes so well with apricots.

Gina: Yum, a plum tart with this stuff sounds good. I'm glad I'm not alone in the war against ivy (and everything else that creeps and crawls where we don't want it).

Elizabeth: Yes, I think my next post needs to be my pie crust, because several people have asked for it now. I'll get on it!

TGS: Oooooh, that hazelnut version sounds wonderful. I'll have to try that sometime. Madeira vine sounds like an utter bitch. I don't blame you for hating it.

It sounds like we all have some plant we hate. Let's raise our collective fists and wage the war together, my friends! Together, we shall overcome _______ (whatever that pestilent plant is that makes each of us crazy).
Lucy said…
bloody ivy!!

dark rum, slugged in...oy. what a fantastic idea...

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