First come the leaves, and then the delicate white flowers and then the tiny berries -- strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, growing in tangles along country lanes, kept at bay in the back yard garden, or piled into little wooden berry boxes and left at the end of a driveway, balanced on a rickety table where a sign offers them for $1.50 a quart.
At first the berries are enough, warm from the sun, staining fingers and mouth and eaten as is, though in the presence of guests they will be placed in a bowl, and there will be a spoon to chase them round and a pitcher of cream to drown them in.
One could never tire of the luscious simplicity of freshly picked berries.
And then one does. Another dinner party that ends with strawberries piled high in a blue china bowl. Another helping of raspberries and cream, another beautifully arranged dessert platter where blackberries circle the strawberries and blueberries are heaped in the center, all served up with a silver spoon. Boring.
As is the case with so many marriages, variety is needed to revive that initial attraction.
And this is where fools rush in -- or at least they should, since the dessert called a fool is the simplest way to serve fruit once cream and sugar no longer appeal. Pure'e the berries and sweeten to taste. Take an equal amount of heavy cream, whip until stiff and fold into the berry pure'e. You can blend it entirely or let it remain streaked with color. If you have sufficient wine glasses, pile it into those (it's prettier when you can see the colors) and chill.
You can bake pies with the fruit in the shell, having previously sweetened the berries and thickened them with tapioca granules, or bake the pie crust blind and then pile it high with fruit. Taste before you add sugar; the berries of summer bear little relation to those that winter in the supermarket.
There are cobblers, where the fruit is sweetened and piled in a deep pie dish and topped with a round of biscuit dough. There is strawberry shortcake, which should never ever be served in those hockey-puck cakes that are sold in packets in the supermarket; a true strawberry shortcake is made from biscuit dough, with the biscuits taken out of the oven, broken open with a fork and smeared with butter, then spread with spoonfuls of mashed strawberries, layered with whole or sliced berries and then topped with the other biscuit half. And then, of course, the whole tilting tower is slathered with whipped cream.
You can make ice cream, though in a world that now provides flavors no one ever dreamed of wanting, that may mean unnecessary work. The old-fashioned churns need rock salt and elbow grease and the new little machines that fit in the refrigerator freezer turn out such a small amount that it hardly repays the effort.
One of life's perennial problems is that we always want what we can't have: raspberries in February and snowballs in August. If you didn't freeze a few snowballs during last winter's storm, it's too late now, but it is not too late to do something about next winter's lust for berries. They can be preserved as jams or jellies or conserves, boiled into syrup to pour over ice cream or custards or pancakes or poached fruits, the squashed berries from the bottom of the box can be added to ordinary vinegar and then you will not be forced into bankruptcy down at the specialty store when you try a recipe that demands blueberry or raspberry vinegar. They also can be frozen and the best way to do that is to spread the fruit, one layer deep on a cookie tin, and place it in the freezer until the berries are frozen. Then pack them in a freezer container. Since they're frozen hard they won't squish in the container.
If you have a great deal of time and patience, you also could impress your guests by serving them glazed fruit. These must be served the day they are made and probably should not be attempted when the humidity is so high that nothing will dry. Weather does play a part in cooking, as anyone who bakes bread or makes mayonnaise knows. Unless you are a truly dedicated cook, this is the kind of thing you might only do once, but much of life is like that and it is nice to be able to say that you've done it.
Work with fruit that is dry and at room temperature and, obviously, pretty enough to merit glazing. Make a syrup -- Joy of Cooking suggests using one cup sugar, and 1/2 to 3/4 cups water, to which you have added 1/16 teaspoon of cream of tartar. When the syrup comes to a boil, cover and let it cook for about three minutes. A candy thermometer should register 300 degrees. Take the pan off the heat, place over hot water and dip the fruits a few at a time, placing them on a wire rack until the coating hardens. If the syrup begins to harden, reheat over hot water. You should work quickly; if the syrup becomes too thick, reheating it will make it burn.
When serving the fruits, do not allow your guests to think you bought them. All that effort must be repaid with praise.