Sweet days of summer

 Executive Chef Jen Tillou snips some fresh herbs and checks out the pepper plans. 

Executive Chef Jen Tillou snips some fresh herbs and checks out the pepper plans. 

The farm-to-table movement is so ubiquitous now that even fast food joints claim they have “artisanal” burgers. A major regional chain thanks farmers on blue barns across the state.

I may roll my eyes at some of it but emphasizing fresh and local is a wonderful thing. And in Wisconsin, summertime is the season for some incredible taste experiences.

At Lark, we work with several farms in southern Wisconsin/northern Illinois. Our specials are often driven by what we can get from our farmers. Strawberries from Skelly’s Farm Market in June. Produce from Roots Down and Harrison Market farms. Boxes upon boxes of sweet corn from Meyer’s Farm Market in July for making elotes and other treats.

Then there’s our little garden in the back. We put in four raised beds behind the restaurant in late May. Filling them spade by spade with dirt over the Memorial Day weekend was a lot of fun (not). But the results are pretty inspiring. We have lots of fresh mint for our cocktails that provides a heady rush when you sniff that Missionary’s Demise, Mojito or Mint Julep. Mint that has just been snipped makes for a very different experience.

We’ve got all kinds of peppers, tomatoes and herbs growing out back, too. Not enough to produce all we need, but it’s cool to see Chef Jen or one of her team snipping basil or picking cherry tomatoes for the night’s special.

And we have our friends of the restaurant, who bring us berries, tomatoes and herbs from their gardens and honey from their hives. The produce is wonderful but the excuse to visit is even better.

 Raspberries fresh from the field. 

Raspberries fresh from the field. 

At the end of July, Richard and I did our annual trip up to Bayfield for a concert at Big Top Chautauqua and berry picking at Blue Vista Farm. We picked Royalty Purple raspberries and giant, juicy Patriot blueberries for over four hours. Picking berries is sort of hypnotic. Just under that next leaf will be a plump, perfect morsel … and then under the next leaf …  After that stint in the raspberry patch, my forearms were so scratched up that it looked like I was the loser of a serious cat fight. The raspberries are dark purple, almost black when fully ripe.  They don’t taste like anything unusual when you pop them in your mouth, but they have an amazing richness when infused or cooked.

They make all the difference when I make the annual batch of raspberry liqueur, which is now available at our bar. Try it with prosecco in the Raspberry Beret or just enjoy a cordial glass of it for dessert. It’s pure, smooth, intense raspberry with a hint of vanilla. The wine-soaked berries that were strained out are being put to good use in a sauce for the crab claw beignets.

I put aside a couple bottles for home, of course. In January, we’ll take a sip and remember the soft breeze off Lake Superior, the warmth on our backs, and berry-stained hands. And we’ll dream of summer in Wisconsin.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the deliciousness of this fleeting summer, too.

 Blue Vista Farm in Bayfield, WI. 

Blue Vista Farm in Bayfield, WI. 

Joan Neeno