When I was growing up, I was blessed with an extraordinary great-aunt. Pauline Kozntawas a dedicated high school French teacher who also worked at the American Association to the UN where she one year received the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for having performed the most foreign service. Her husband, elegantly old-fashioned UncleLeslie, was an importer of wine and spirits. Although I adored them both, they lived in such a rarefield and gracious manner that a visit to their exquisite apartment in Riverdale always held many unknown terrors for me. I was brought up in a much more casual, child-oriented environment. I didn’t know not to put my feet on the chair rungs, or my hands on the walls, or not to pick up a chicken drumstick with my fingers. And I had certainly not experienced food that had wine or liqueur in it. But around the time I was in junior high school and could travel on my own up to the Bronx, AuntPollytook it upon herself to civilize and educate me in the finer ways. The afternoon would usually begin with a detested French lesson and then proceed to some other cultural discussion. Dinner would be the final lesson, and one day, whenPollyasked me if there was anything I couldn’t tolerate to eat, I immediately presented her with a lengthy verbal list. She asked with great surprise if I could possibly be allergic to all those things and when I explained that it was simply a question of extreme distaste, her horrifying response was, “That’s no excuse,” and she proceeded to serve one of them (canned asparagus—horror of horrors). If only I could return to those dinners now, with my passion for speaking French and my more mature palate. (Though I still wouldn’t want canned asparagus, even if imported from France.)
The one thing I almost always enjoyed about dinner was dessert. Hannah, the housekeeper, had been a pastry chef in the city of her origin, Vienna. She told stories about separate restaurant kitchens devoted to the brewing of coffee so as not to contaminate its flavor. My favorite of her desserts was her ice cream bombe. Hannah had become a little lazy and used store-bought pistachio ice cream and raspberry sorbet and chocolate chips for pits but I have recreated the recipe directly from my fantasy, making everything from scratch. The ganache seeds are ideal because they don’t harden even on freezing and they really do resemble the real thing. Either way, this is a spectacular and fabulously delicious dessert, perfect for the Fourth of July, partly because watermelon is so very American and partly because the word bombe is suggestive of fireworks!