When I visit family in the Boston area, I’ll do some eating, in moderation. The way a hungry wolf finds time for a wounded rabbit, I’ll make time for farmers markets to see what’s in season, and old world markets for dolmas, chickpeas and chili peppers. I’ll cut a block to discover a bowl of duck soup at the new pho joint in the next town, and drive to Fall River for Portuguese seafood. But the sweetest discovery of all is learning how to make Boston Berry Parfait.
When I left this area to attend university, never to return for more than one visit, my skills in natural science reached the point where I could avoid poison ivy, a skill that served me well on my return. In the meantime, I’ve added some new plants to my list of native plants. Most of these plants have edible parts, thanks to an old lady I met in the bushes.
I was walking along a bike path that had recently replaced an old set of train tracks. When I called her up and asked her about her early raspberry, she looked at me with skeptical side eyes. Her accent was German, Swiss, or Austrian – I’d imagine her somewhere in the Alps – where she reluctantly explained it was a black raspberry. I held up my phone with a picture of a friend’s harvest of wild resources and it was like, “This is what we harvest in Montana.”
Surprisingly, my bragging had the desired effect. You recognized me as a member of the Foraging Tribe, and thus deserved a chance.
“There is a mulberry tree down the path on the left, right before it gets sunny,” she said. I walked until I saw purple spots on the sidewalk and looked at a canopy of hanging juice bombs. The tree was growing from the seam between the asphalt parking lot and the retaining wall, its trunk partially absorbed by a chain-link fence. The fruit looks like an elongated black berry, so sweet and juicy and so ripe that I had to pick it with two fingers at a time or risk dropping it.
I saw her leave the blackberry patch and decided to give it a try, but she cleaned it up perfectly. She headed home, wondering if she had gone, when she shouted from under another tree, these raspberry-like orbs at the end of long stems. “Johnberry,” she said, in her thick tone.
My friend showed me enough food on the 200 yards of bike path to practically feed myself. Alas, you would have been wise to suspect me, as I returned a few days later with a bowl in my hand, and on that day it was I who cleaned the blackberries. And the juniper berries, in turn, were cleaned by birds – every last one, even from the weak upper part. But the berries were plentiful as ever.
As I wandered through the self-service blueberry buffet, I noticed the circumstances leading up to it. Turbulent habitat along the bike path, near the water, partial shade. Armed with this information, I was able to find more berries elsewhere in my travels.
When I was young I would fly the barn before sticking to the view of my house the way I now know such a bond could happen. Instead, she was associated with Montana. In the process of hunting large mammals and foraging for cranberries, gooseberries, and wild mushrooms, I learned how to read landscapes. Now I passively notice things like how the watershed drains, where is north, what kind of trees make up a particular forest, what animal tracks look like, what howls and howls look like. While working in Montana, I learned to understand Massachusetts.
Likewise my children learned to read landscapes. Put them in any airport, and they can find a parfait in a matter of seconds. And they love parfait, which means perfection in French. So imagine how satisfied you would be being able to make it at home, homemade parfait. It’s a point of pride for me, like coming back from a meat hunting trip. But sweeter.
On the way back to my mom’s house with the berries, I stopped at Dolma’s Yogurt, Cream and Labneh, a type of very thick yoghurt that looks like hard “cream on top”. The store didn’t stock any oats or granola, but I did find a can of Petit Purée, a type of vanilla biscuit from Nantes, France. And I bought a box of fresh strawberries from a local farm, and they are just as ripe as berries.
Whether they are fed in the hills, at the market, or grown in your own backyard, strawberries belong in this parfait. Along with the vanilla cookies, they help push them over the edge into the shortcake area, which is a good spot for you.
Since I can’t reveal where you found it, and you probably don’t live in Boston anyway, you’ll have to learn your landscaping, wherever you are, and find some berries on your own. In a field, a road, a hill, a river, an alley, or a farmer’s market. Be a native to where you are, even if you’re only there to visit. This process is its reward, and Parfait will follow.
Boston Berry Parfait
Any combination of berries will work, but it must contain strawberries. If you can’t find yogurt, substitute a full cup of Greek yogurt.
- 4 servings
- Half a cup of milk
- 1 cup yogurt
- Half a cup of heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 4 cups berries
- 1 box of petit puri cookies
Wash, chop, prune and generally prepare the berries for consumption. Let them air dry.
Mix the yogurt, cream, and syrup until the mixture is completely smooth, and put a spoonful in the bottom of each parfait glass. Layer the berries, yogurt and biscuit mix, so everything is touching the yogurt and the fruit is pressed onto the glass. Finish with a bunch of berries on top. Leave for 30 minutes for cookies to soften and serve.
Alternatively, line a bowl of the yogurt mixture with the berry mixture and toss it with crackers like chips and sauce.