Sweet Rewards

As the product of a conservative Republican household, it should represent no small amount of shock to my family to find that within me lies a strong streak of all-out hippie homesteader. It’s true. And I blame the fruit trees in the side yard.

As a lonely child not terribly good at making and/or keeping friends, I spent many, many contented summer days alone

A rich lemon cream adds a sweet-tart lusciousness between each layer of blackberry syrup soaked lemon cake.
A rich lemon cream adds a sweet-tart lusciousness between each layer of blackberry syrup soaked lemon cake.

outside. There were two plum trees and an apricot in the side yard that was bordered on three sides by cinder block walls the color of a faded salmon (the fourth wall had a lovely view of the driveway). During the long, hot Eastern LA County summers at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, I would set up a daytime home: chairs, novels, a table for eating, a folding TV tray set up with a basin and bar of soap for hand washing. I imagined myself homesteading, self-sufficiently living off the land. I would dredge a ring around each tree like a moat, then create a mini aqueduct connecting the three rings and I’d turn the hose on to a low trickle. I told myself it was a stream. The water bill told my parents it was a travesty on a grand scale. I’d read my books and listen to my stream and monitor those fat juicy plums. I’d pick them at the moment of peak ripeness and relish snap of the tart, sun-warmed purple-black skin and impossibly sweet crimson flesh. The apricots were good too, but oh those plums. Legendary.

Juicy blackberries picked at their peak become blackberry syrup that adds a lovely ruby red richness to each layer, as well as blackberry flavor and a soft lilac color to the buttercream.
Juicy blackberries picked at their peak become blackberry syrup that adds a lovely ruby red richness to each layer, as well as blackberry flavor and a soft lilac color to the buttercream.

Fast forward some decades and I’m now living on the outskirts of Portland, an agricultural haven to rival that of California’s golden age. The summers here are not the hot, smoggy slogs of punishment from my childhood but rather rewards for enduring the sometimes seemingly endless rain. Perfect days in the low to mid 80’s, impossibly blue skies, a pleasant breeze–it’s like the summer I dreamed of but would never presume to be real. I no longer spend my days reading novels under fruit trees (such a pity), but I do love to spend them turning those bountiful harvests of fruits and vegetables from the garden into delicious treats that nourish the belly and the soul. Rewards in and of themselves.

Rewards are a good thing, aren’t they? A moment to stop and mark that you’ve just done something good, completed

All the best of summer and the handy convenience of a cake. Soft white lemony layers soaked in blackberry syrup, lemon cream filling, and blackberry buttercream. Summer perfection.
All the best of summer and the handy convenience of a cake. Soft white lemony layers soaked in blackberry syrup, lemon cream filling, and blackberry buttercream. Summer perfection.

something, survived something. And while there are as many ways to reward yourself as there are ways to earn said reward, I do think Heather chose so nicely by rewarding her family and herself with a Blackberry Lemon cake after a challenging week.

Soft white cakes with the delicate floral brightness of fresh lemon zest, soaked in a gorgeous blackberry syrup, generous blankets of the most divine lemon cream between the layers, and covered in a blackberry buttercream, this cake screams summer. Summer as a reward for enduring the winter, either literal or metaphoric. Summer as a season of reward with long, beautiful days and fresh, fat fruit that actually grows on trees. Summer as sweet and tart and luscious as life itself.

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