Mulberries and Rose Water: Desserts for Summer

Mulberries and Rose Water: Desserts for Summer

Last week was the first properly hot week of the year in Brussels. Some days felt like August, with a relentless sun above, dry grass below and a certain languor that is only possible when it’s very warm. The weather always has an immediate impact on what I want to eat, and in the heat I usually want to eat less. I also crave less sweats, but I still crave some.

I’m not big on ice cream (shocking, I know), so I need to find other ways to get my summery sweet fix. Fruits and berries are always a great option and when in Estonia, nothing beats wild strawberries with milk and a little bit of sugar. If I want serious sweetness, however, I think the flavours of the Middle World work well. Now, I know, I just love the food of that region (see here for proof) and would evangelise about it anyway, but hear me out.

To my mind, it makes sense that countries that experience high temperatures would make great summer desserts. The ingredients and flavours evoke – at least for me – the warmth of distant suns. Saffron, pistachios, cardamom, rose water, almonds, pomegranates, dates, walnuts, apricots, poppy seeds, mangos… Doesn’t is sound like they have soaked up all that sunshine and heat? The other thing I like is that these sweet treats often come in small pieces rather than Western-style cakes. Almond cookies and sweatmeats and halvas and little pastries are just the right size for me to enjoy with tea or coffee.

It was fortunate, therefore, that I had just bought Mountain Berries & Desert Spice, Sumayya Usmani’s beautiful book entirely dedicated to Pakistani sweets. I’m fascinated with Pakistani food since her first book, Summers Under the Tamarind Tree that I highly recommend. It reminds me of a cross between Indian and Persian cuisine and in the case of sweets, more of the latter. That’s not to say that Pakistani food lacks originality – it’s very much its own thing, influenced by the extremely varied and abundant produce of the country. And they do love their sweets.

The book is filled with recipes like rose water biscuits (below) and buckwheat pancakes with mulberry syrup*(main picture), rice puddings and stewed fruits and sweet breads. Most of these things are quite rich: trifle with lychee, mango, cardamom milk and vermicelli or spiced and floral truffles with dates, apricots, walnuts and pistachio. But there are also the refreshing pomegranate jelly and the amazing-sounding mango with thyme and pink salt.

This is of course not the only cookbook where you’d find inspiration. There’ll be something in this direction in all my favourite Middle Eastern cookbooks and also in Samarkand, with a Central Asian twist. One book I haven’t mentioned yet, however, is The Food of Oman by Felicia Campbell. I haven’t cooked from it much, but it gives you the context, beautiful pictures and some truly enticing recipes. Royal sticky date pudding sounds absolutely delicious (and looks gorgeous), as does the saffron sweet milk tea.

What are your favourite summer desserts? Let me know in the comments.

*It is not in the recipe, but I add some sour cream (and pistachios for crunch) and it works so well with the earthy pancakes and the sweet syrup that even a buckwheat skeptic like me is converted.


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  1. 1

    Strawberries, anything rhubarb( I make this oven baked strawberries and rhubarb actually, that I’m mad about), we are very fond of our berry crumbles up here in Sweden and any version of an Eton Mess is just the thing for me.

    • 2

      I adore Eton Mess. I make several versions, including a Middle Eastern one (surprise!) with pomegranate and rose water/syrup.

  2. 3

    I dated a Persian man for a few years and dinners at his mom’s and at his sister’s – both of whom are exceptional cooks- were part of the deal. One summer night his sister placed an unassuming bowl of rice noodles in slushy ice water and the boyfriend urged me to try it. It’s called faloodeh and it’s delectable- basically frozen vermicelli noodles in a frozen rose water slush. Perfect for summer and so delicate and yummy. Here’s a link to a good recipe Also, you can never go wrong with watermelon chunks, feta cheese, and mint leaves.

    • 4

      If you were trying to make me envious, you have succeeded admirably!:) There are several desserts with vermicelli in Usmani’s book as well, although I cannot check at the moment if there was a version of faloodeh or not. Also, completely agree on watermelon.

  3. 5

    Hello haven’t been around for a while as I was away but I see I have missed some fun posts – I adore mulberries and there is nothing like eating them freshly picked (although they are so delicate it can be difficult to pick them without crushing them) and they stain your hands the most incredible colour.
    For summer deserts a truly magical, evocative, delicate and beautiful combination are gooseberries and elderflower and particularly gooseberry fool – there is a delicacy and a full blown ness at the same time which makes it beyond perfect for midummser evenings outside when the light seems to carry on long beyond sunset (although having returned from St Petersburg recently I realise that midsummer further north must be even more magical).
    Beyond this anything meringue (soft meringues) with wild fruit or berries is rather glorious, as well as those sorts of messy fruits tarts you can make by making a rough pastry casing and putting various furits in with some light custard and baking. Plus barbecued bananas with bitter chocolate sauce spiked with alcohol is rather good…

    • 6

      Ah, gooseberries! Severely underrated, if you ask me. And I adore meringues of all kinds – Pavlova is one of my favourite desserts, but I never met a meringue I didn’t like.

      I don’t mean to brag, but midsummer in Estonia is quite wonderful – if you ever plan to visit, end of June is a great time. What were you doing in St Petersburg? I love that city (or parts of it), but haven’t been a while.

      • 7

        I suspect gooseberries are super popular here when they appear but given their sort season and general lack of availability they are probably not well known elsewhere. Which sort of makes them even more special – I do like that there are still some things which aren’t available year round.
        I was in St Petersburg purely to visit it with a friend – it is stunningly beautiful and I definitely wasn’t able to take in all the art at the Hermitage despite having an excellent guide and despite being rather excited by the sheer breadth of the collection. I thoroughly enjoyed it (and adored the food) but next time will try to make sure I have some grasp of the alphabet first…Meanwhile I might well try to get to Estonia for midsummer in a year or so – it is such a magical time in the north.

        • 8

          It is impossble to take in everything at the Hermitage with one visit, it’s just too much. We used to go there on school trips when Soviet Union still existed – one of the very few good things ever to come of that. Ah, now I want to go again…

          Needless to say, if you ever come to Tallinn/Estonia, I’ll be happy to help in any way I can.

  4. 9

    I saw Sumayya Usmani speak at a book festival in Scotland last weekend and she was wonderful – eloquent, persuasive (I bought both books) and a gifted ambassador for her country and cuisine. She was also supremely elegant and funny. The recipes are accessible and her stories are really engaging – I’d recommend these for your non-fiction summer reading list if you were’t the source of my interest in the first place 🙂

    • 10

      What a treat! I follow her on Instagram and she always seemed exactly as you describe. Have you tried any of the recipes?

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