What is the taste of summer?

When I was a kid, one of the most exciting things about summer was that Mr Whippy would start his suburban crawl around the mean streets of Timaru with a vengeance. A gaggle of kids flocking to the van, craving snow-freeze with perhaps an added bonus flake, choc dip or some sugary hundreds and thousands, as the gloriously wonky music played, sticky ice-cream dripping down arms...

It was the taste of summer.

When you get a little older (hopefully) the taste of summer is something a little more sophisticated. We had a look last week at the kickoff of barbecue season, and there are a couple of other things I have been thinking about, vis a vis the taste of summer.

Friday was stonkingly hot here in Wellington, a real boiler (I am exaggerating a bit here, for descriptive effect) - an intense, almost three-dimensional heat that made me instantly regret going for a swim in the morning before the cloud cover had even burned off, rather than waiting until lunchtime when it would have done me the most good in terms of cooling down my (large) bodily surface area. So I did the next best thing - I went and got an iceblock.

One of the things I really like about summer is the now almost iconic grapefruit and lemon FruJu. They seem to return to the freezers at dairies and service stations, by popular demand, each summer. They probably wouldn't be all that popular over the cooler months, but in summer they are just about perfect as a thirst-quenching, cooling treat. They are sweet but ultra tart. And they seem really, really juicy...

So, on Friday, I intended to get a grapefruit and lemon FruJu. But I was distracted, magpie-like, by something newer, bigger, brighter - and a little bit posher - the new range of iceblocks from The Icebar Co. In particular, one in a ginger beer flavour (they also do an old-fashioned lemonade and a lemon, lime and bitters). I am totally into ginger beer - yeasty, zesty, zappy. Great mixer (Moscow mule!) - delicious. So, ginger beer in iceblock form on a hot day, come to daddy...

How was it? Hmmm, prettay, prettay, prettay good. 7/10. Slightly underwhelming. Could be better. I wanted more ginger, more snap, more punch in the face flavour. I sorta wished I had gone with the FruJu, which never fails to deliver cheek-sucking-in tart ferocity.

So I'm sorry, ginger beer ice block - you don't take TTOS ("the taste of summer") line honours - not yet, anyhow (this is not going to stop me trying the other two flavours, though - The Omnivore is nothing if not thorough).

There is also lots of good stuff in season around this time of year - last night I made a deliciously fresh warm salad with seasonal asparagus, grilled zucchini, broad beans, basil and fresh peas in a lemony dressing. And I have some corncobs that I'm just dying to hit with some feta, lemon and black pepper. All worthy contenders for TTOS - but none are quite the right fit for such an accolade. And as for new potatoes - amazing. But still no cigar.

Peculiarly, I am going to give my vote to an unlikely contender. Early summer means to me the opportunity to step up my (slightly OCD) swimming regime. You see, I infinitely prefer outdoor pools to their indoor cousins (less noisy, don't smell like athlete's foot, etc). So, it means that my two favourite outdoor pools are now open again - McKenzie Pool in Petone, and Thorndon Pool behind Parliament. I love swimming lengths - the one form of exercise I enjoy unreservedly. But it does make you astonishingly hungry.

And it just so happens that over the road from Thorndon Pool is a branch of Wholly Bagels, who do an excellent value-for-money $6 coffee-and-a-bagel breakfast deal. They have a huge array of bagel flavours, but I think my favourite is those with poppy seeds on top, and a sundried tomato cream cheese schmear. Tasty, filling - and there is a low-fat option (which I would normally avoid like the plague, but it is actually pretty good). I love the chewy, nutty bite of the "boiled then baked" bagel. I love the crust. They also remind me a little of the best bagels I have ever had - from a bakery on Seven Sisters Road in Finsbury Park, London, where I used to live more than a decade ago.

Back then, they were a "returning from the pub" snack, fresh baked from the oven and filled with egg, cheese, or just buttered. And now they are a taste that caps off exercise - I suppose some would call that an evolution of some sort?

Anyway - bagels - the taste I now associate with the onset of summer. Weird but true.

So - what is your "taste of summer" - what is the flavour you most associate with this wonderful time of year? Have you tried the ginger beer/ lemonade/ lemon-lime-bitters ice blocks - your verdict? And - don't you just love the grapefruit and lemon FruJu?!

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