by Megan Labrise – Tea up the jam, flip the cake or play the fool with tasty local bounty
Give that chocolate lava cake a break and send the crème brulée away. Why waste one more mouthful on unseasonable treats when local fruit has come to bear? We’ve got strawberries aplenty, and it’s just the start — cherries, raspberries, blackberries, apricots, plums, peaches, apples, grapes and pears will appear in sweet succession. Betties, buckles, pies, pandowdies, crisps and cobblers are yours for the baking. Toss fruit into pancake batter; slice and spread it over custard tarts. Purée and mix with sparkling water, iced tea, lemonade or cocktails; savory glazes or hot sauces. But of course the best thing to do is eat it off the tree or vine.
No one will argue that the year-round supermarket stuff tastes nearly as good as the local in-season. When there’s less distance to travel, varieties can be selected for maximum deliciousness versus ability to travel without bruising. Fruit can be picked closer to optimum ripeness, allowing flavor to develop. Add to this the fact that a big-haul harvest drives prices down and there’s no justification for refusing to raise a pint at the farmers’ market or grocery store.
Every year I try to make the most of fruit season. I buy bevies of berries. I stockpile stone fruit. But once the eighth or ninth straight-laced lattice pie is baked, I’m hungry for new ways to showcase my finds. Here are tried-and-true few that you may want to try:
Tea-flavored jellies and jams
Most anyone staring down a pile of summer fruit will wish they could save some for the winter, and the obvious thing to do is break out the Mason jars and put some up. You can can your fruit, sliced, in sugar syrup or, more likely, make it into jams and jellies. Straight-up favorites — raspberry jam, grape jelly — are good, but you can make them more interesting with tea or an infusion of herbs. To add tea to any standard recipe, steep 4-6 tea bags in two cups of hot water for 5-10 minutes. Once all other ingredients are incorporated and bubbling away on the stove, remove bags and add the tea. Allow the mixture to simmer down until it returns to your desired consistency. Voilà: fruit-tea jam. I’ve had great success with chamomile and ground cherries. I’d like to try Ceylon peach. Blueberry and Darjeeling? Cherries and chai? Harney & Sons of Millerton has a Ginger & Liquorice tea that could be a good addition to pear preserves. The confiture combinations are limitless. Properly canned jam keeps for one year in a cool dark pantry or, after opening, for three weeks in a refrigerator.
Upside-down cake bonanza
Forget pineapple — pretty much any fruit can be turned into an upside-down cake. Here’s how: Take a 10-inch cast iron skillet and mix a half-cup of sugar with a quarter-cup of water; whisk over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Raise heat to medium-high and cook without stirring until bubbles turn dark golden (5-6 minutes). Remove from burner and whisk in two tablespoons butter. As the pan cools, rub its still-hot sides with more butter. Arrange your fruits display-side down on top of the caramel, then top with blobs of cake batter and bake. Here’s a recipe for Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake that can be easily modified to accommodate your preferred fruit: http://bit.ly/N46ASw. (While rhubarb is technically an herbaceous perennial, it has been legally considered a fruit since a 1947 United States Customs Court ruling, because it is typically used as such.) This cake is only improved by a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.
For those times you don’t want to turn on the oven, consider the fool, a dessert made mashed macerated fruit incorporated into fluffy whipped cream. Served in a chilled parfait dish, it’s not exactly homogenous; pockets of cream and bursts of fruit punctuate the mix. Gooseberry is the traditional choice, but any kind of berry combination would do. It is airy yet satisfying, and you could use it in place of plain whipped cream in a cool summer trifle.
Freeze (and) tag
If you’ve jammed, fooled, turned everything upside down and still have fruit to spare, freeze right there. Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries can be spread out on cookie sheets and frozen, then transferred to freezer bags. Skin and slice your peaches; sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice to preserve texture. Fruit will be almost as good as fresh in baked goods for the first three months, and can last up to a year in the freezer.