Raspberries, wild raspberries (and buttermilk panna cotta)

Hunters, venison cooks, venison fans of Northern Minnesota! I am hear to deliver some good news. There are many many deer about. Many. And they are as dim as the bottom of a Eurasian milfoil-infested lake. As I mentioned last time, they are strolling down paths past bedrooms filled with humans. One earlier today stood, stark still in that way that they have, about 10 feet away from me on a back road that wasn’t untraveled enough for a deer on the edge of it to think a human was no threat at all.

I grew up in a family of hunters. But not deer hunters. My family are bird-hunting people. Ducks. Pheasants. That’s our game. I have a strong, visceral memory of being put to work plucking feathers at the age of about 5. We all sat around my uncle’s garage with large cardboard boxes between us, plucking, my great-grandparents leading the pack.I realize now, of course, that the adults had all had a cocktail or two, and that just might have contributed to their high spirits in face of this onerous task.

Deer hunters always struck me, and I mean no disrespect here although much will be taken I’m sure, as taking the easy hunting road. You put out a salt lick. You climb into your post. You sit. You drink. You wait. A deer comes along and you shoot it.

These deer I’ve been encountering? I have a sense I could walk up to them a give them a slap if I were so inclined. I want to yell at them to be afraid of me. To run. To save themselves. I want to warn them that fall is coming and the hunters will be out and this “I’m standing still so no one can see me” thing is not going to serve them well.

Yet these deer are really messing up my berry-picking. So the small and evil part of me that loves berries more than Bambi can’t help but think “yeah, stand still, M-Fer, your time will come soon enough.”

Of course, that time does me no good. The berries will be long gone by then and I will be back in San Francisco where neither wild deer nor wild berries occupy much of my thoughts most days.

Above you see a sample of the wild raspberries I covet and which these ample deer are snarfing down whenever I turn away. They are pictured alongside their larger, cultivated brethren. The wild ones we pick along with back road… well, 30 seconds into picking them and you see why someone who wanted to make a living growing and selling raspberries might start working on some hybrids and crossings and whatnot. These berries are so small that it takes 3 or 4 to equal a regular, already pretty darn small raspberry. They are so delicate that they often fall into separate drupelets as you pick them, so it’s best to hold the container or your hand underneath the berry as you pull it down off the bramble if you don’t want to lose any precious fruit.

Of course, for all their smallness and tenderness they are also sweet. And they taste of raspberries. Of pure, solid, amazing, fabulous raspberries.

We eat them plain. Or with some cream or yogurt. Or, if I feel like spending a bit of time in the kitchen, with buttermilk panna cotta.

Buttermilk panna cotta

I can’t think of a better way to put it than my dad did: “Honey, this white stuff is really good.”

1 3/4 cups cream or half-and-half

10 tablespoons sugar

1 package (1/2 oz.) gelatin

2 1/2 cups buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (the good stuff shines here!)

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring cream and sugar to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar and taking care not to bring the cream to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl or 4-cup measuring cup, dissolve gelatin in 2 tablespoons of cold water. Let sit 3 to 5 minutes.

Whisk cream mixture into the bloomed gelatin. Add the buttermilk and vanilla.

Divide mixture evenly between 8 small ramekins (6- to 8-oz. each). Put ramekins on a baking sheet for easy transfer (although there is rarely room enough in my fridge to do this – instead they end up here and there and all around the place and I find one a few days later and feel very lucky indeed) and chill until set, at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

To serve, unmold desserts by dipping ramekins into a bowl of very hot water and inverting panna cottas onto plates. You may need to slip the point of a sharp knife along the side to loosen the edge and allow the mixture to release from the ramekin. I find a bit of pounding and shaking at this point helps things along immeasurably. Hey, the worst that can happen is this:

Serve buttermilk panna cotta with fresh berries, if you possible can, although shavings of chocolate, some preserved cherries, and orange sections are all lovely, too.