Late Bloomers

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Aster ‘Monch’

I just had an OMG moment.  I had planned to write about asters in my garden, but I got interested in the “late bloomers” phrase and googled it.  The first article that popped up had just what I wanted – a description of some of our more colorful late bloomers.  People – not plants.

The OMG moment hit when I began reading through the posted list.  The average age was probably 58!  Is there a category for Incredibly Late Bloomers? or I-Can’t-Believe-They’re Still-Alive Late Bloomers?

Julia Child was a bit of a late bloomer, at least in regards to her cooking prowess.  She was 49 when her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was published, and she was over 80 when her last cookbook came out.  Our daughter was delighted to get to sit beside her when “Julia’s Kitchen,” opened in Napa in 2002.  Julia was about 90 at the time (and we hear she slept through much of the ceremony).

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Julia Child with her husband Paul

The marriage of Paul and Julia Child was described in a great article in Town and Country.  When Paul was 59, he retired from his career in the Foreign Service – just as Julia’s cooking career was taking off.  In one of her cookbooks, Julia described Paul as “the man who is always there: porter, dishwasher, official photographer, mushroom dicer and onion chopper, editor, fish illustrator, manager, taster, idea man, resident poet, and husband.”

Paul, too, it appears, was a late bloomer in many ways.

Of course, early bloomers are adored by one and all.  The spring blossoms pop out – often as early as February or March in our Northern California garden – and give new color and vitality after the drizzly cold gloomy winter.  Mind you, I don’t do daffodils – or any spring bulbs for that matter (too short of bloom time and too raggedy out of bloom, in my opinion), but I do love the deciduous azaleas and geum and euphorbias and hellebores – as well as the plum and peach tree blossoms – that brighten up our spring flower bed.

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Spring brings peach and plum tree blossoms to our garden

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Geum ‘Mai Tai’ looking lovely in April

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the spring-blooming, deciduous ‘Northern Lights’ azalea – almost iridescent

But by the time August rolls around those spring bloomers are pretty much spent….weary from their heavy blooms and the summer’s heat.   It’s just then that the asters and caryopteris and goldenrod begin their display.  Admittedly, the blossoms on these fall perennial bloomers may not be as big and in-your-face as those spring ones, but oh well.  Small can be lovely too.   And they’re there for you when you need them most.  Timing is everything.

We’ve got three varieties of asters just starting to bloom – ‘Purple Dome’, ‘Mönch’, and a purplish one which may be ‘Winston Churchill.’  I was wary of planting them, thinking they were too water-needy for our drought-tolerant garden, but they’ve done beautifully.

Andy (see today’s Andy’s Corner) and I recommend you seek out the late-bloomers.  They have a lot to offer.  And we’re very partial to these desserts from Julia Child too.

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The aster ‘September Ruby’ just barely breaking into bloom – the 1st day of August

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A lovely little aster – most likely ‘Winston Churchill’ (do you wonder, as I do, why it was named that?  Did it have anything to do with Lady Astor? 🙂

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Blackberry Clafouti

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Peach Clafouti

Fruit Clafouti

A SUPER SIMPLE RECIPE. If you love custard and love fruit, you’ll really love this.  Plus – if you’re like us – you’ll appreciate that it’s not too sweet. Adapted from Julia Child.

  • 1 tablespoon butter, for greasing the baking dish
  • 1 1/4 c milk
  • 2/3 c granulated sugar, divided
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 c flour
  • About 3 cups fresh (not frozen) blueberries, blackberries, pitted sweet cherries, or sliced nectarines, peaches, and/or plums
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a baking dish (such as a 6-8 cup gratin dish or well-seasoned 12-inch-diameter cast-iron skillet) with the butter.

In the jar of an electric blender, add the milk, 1/3 cup of the sugar (note: you’ll add the rest of the sugar in a bit), and the eggs, vanilla, salt, and flour. Blend at high speed until slightly frothy — about 10-15 seconds; do not overblend.

Pour a teeny 1/4-inch layer of the batter into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly, then pop the pan into the oven until the thin layer of batter sets up (about 5-10 minutes, depending upon how thin you kept it).   Remove from the oven and scatter the fruit evenly over the hot batter, then top the fruit with the remaining 1/3 c of sugar. Pour the remaining batter evenly over the berries.

Bake until the batter puffs and browns — 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cool on a wire rack until warm (or even cold, but we prefer it warm). Dust the top with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.  If you want to keep the French theme, try a bit of sweetened creme fraiche with it.

Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.


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Walnut Cake – just out of the oven


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Walnut Cake – with a dab of sweetened whipped cream

Walnut Cake

  • Servings: 6-8 per layer
  • Print

I’ve made lots of cakes – but never one which uses whipping cream instead of butter.  The result is a luscious, tender, moist cake. Adapted from Julia Child. 

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 c ground walnuts (grind a few extra for topping when you serve the cake)
  • 1 1/2 c whipping cream (plus more to whip for serving)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • sweetened whipped cream for serving along with some extra ground walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter the bottoms and sides of 2 9-inch cake rounds and then dust the bottom and sides with flour, tapping out the excess.

Use an electric mixer (on a low speed) to beat the eggs and sugar until smooth and creamy and the consistency of mayonnaise, about5- 8 minutes. The mix will have a very light color.  Add the vanilla and salt to the egg mixture and blend.

In a small bowl, blend the flour and baking powder with a whisk.

In a large bowl, whip the cream to the consistency of mayonnaise. It should have the same consistency as the eggs.

Add a little bit of the flour to the eggs and gently fold it in.  Pour the eggs into the bowl with the cream and fold together. Then gradually fold the remaining flour and the walnuts into the eggs and cream, being sure all is well incorporated.

Put the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly.  Bake 30-35 minutes, or just until the tops are brown and the edges start to pull away from the sides.

Cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then turn the cakes onto wire racks and allow to cool completely.

Julia made an elaborate filling and frosting and then called this a VIP cake because she suggested making it on special occasions for the VIPs in your life.  In an effort to keep it all simpler we suggest that rather than creating a fancy layer cake,  you just slice each unfrosted layer and serve the cake with sweetened whipped cream.  If you don’t have a crowd, freeze the 2nd layer for later.  What a treat to pull it out of the freezer when you need a quick dessert fix. Brought to you by and Andy and Ann.


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Plantation Spice Cookies


Julia Child's Plantation Spice Cookies

  • Servings: Makes 18-24 cookies
  • Print

We’ve tweaked Julia’s recipe a bit.

  • 1 c peanuts, divided (Julia’s recipe calls for unsalted, but salted will work too; just cut back a wee bit on the added salt)
  • 1 1/3 c sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter  (6 ounces)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup dark molasses
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda (definitely use 2 teaspoons!  I goofed once, using only 1 tsp, and the result was not pretty)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

Place all of the peanuts in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped – but not meal-like.  Mix about half the chopped peanuts with 1/3 c sugar and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, followed by the molasses and remaining chopped peanuts. Scrape often.

Combine the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Whisk well to combine.

Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, and mix until just barely combined.

Chill the dough slightly (maybe 15 minutes) and then take a generous tablespoon of dough, roll it in your hands into a ball and then roll the ball in the reserved peanut/sugar mixture. Continue until all the dough is used up.

Place the balls on the baking sheets. The cookies will flatten and spread as they cook, so leave plenty of space between them.

Bake cookies for 9 minutes on the center rack, turn the pans, and bake for 3 to 5 more minutes.

The cookies will have a crackly finish and be slightly puffy; the center will still be soft when you remove them from the oven, though the edges should be set. Cool slightly and remove to cooling racks.  The cookies will keep several days in a plastic sack and will freeze beautifully.

Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.







  1. theRaggedys says:

    I can relate, Bob. It’s been hot here too. My only suggestion is to crank up the oven first thing in the morning when you want to do some baking. It’s a shame to not do any cobblers or crisps or galettes when fruit is at its peak.


  2. Bob Carleton says:

    The clafouti looks delish… but it’s in the 90s every day here during the height of berry season. Will have to see whether some nice berries remain in the markets when it gets cool enough to crank up the oven.


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