Monday, July 14, 2008

Summer Fruit: Things Berry Berry Cherry...

(You will find parts of the following folded into some of my columns. It was written in July of 1995, and published in Cook/Speak, A Seasonal Narrative with Recipes, my subscription newsletter, now no longer being published.)

Once the berries have plopped into your palm from the cane, managed to bypass your mouth, got into the pail, and, once home, satisfied your urge for a bowl of them touched with cream and perhaps a grit of sugar, your mind might wander among these old-fashioned terms, ones you've wondered about before. Here's an attempt at explanation: A Flummery is a generic term for simple, starch-thickened fruit puddings, the concept for which has existed at least since Medieval times. Cousins to syllabubs and creams, and the au courant Fruit Soups, they were thickened with oatmeal, flour, ground almonds, or hart's horn or isinglass which later segued to cornstarch or gelatin.

A Cobbler is fruit baked with a crust, most of them with only a top crust of individual biscuits which, when baked, give the pan the uneven appearance of cobblestones. Pastry or bread dough are often used instead, and some have a bottom crust as well. Sometimes these are inverted after baking, so the crust is down and the fruit on top, and then they might be called Plate Cakes.

Slumps and Grunts resemble cobblers, but are cooked on top of the stove, preferably in a cast-iron skillet. The biscuit dough should be wetter than that used for cobblers, and the finished product resembles dumplings rather than biscuits. Slump is what it does, and grunt is what it sounds like when it's cooking.

A Crisp is fruit topped with a rubbed mixture of rolled oats or flour, butter, brown sugar, suitable spices such as nutmeg or cinnamon, and sometimes nuts, then baked. Sometimes bread, cookie, graham cracker, or stale cake crumbs are substituted for the oatmeal or flour. When the crumbs and fruit are layered it becomes a Brown Betty which, when made with bread crumbs, has been used as a stuffing for fowl. Made in an appropriate, savory manner I can see it as a bed for certain sausages such as duck or perhaps venison. A Crumble is the English Equivalent of a Crisp.

A Buckle is made of berries folded into or scattered over a yellow cake batter, topped with crumbs and baked. Pandowdies consist of sliced fruit topped with a pastry crust that is cut up and pressed back into the fruit for the final few minutes of baking. Early versions used bread dough as the crust. The term "dowdying" may refer to the process of breaking up the dough.

Fruit Roll: Make a sheet cake very thin, as for a jelly roll (see Genoise recipe), then spread with appropriate jam, whip a lot of heavy cream, fold in sweetened berries and spread over the cake. Roll up. Make a matching berry sauce and serve each slice with the sauce and another dollop of whipping cream. Another Fruit Roll is made by rolling out biscuit dough, lining a pan with it with enough overlap to fold over the top, fill with berries, then pull up the sides into an almost closed pouch.

To make a trifling Trifle, fold together cubes of sponge or angel food cake, whipped cream and fruit and mound in a footed bowl. Or line the bowl with thin slices of cake and fill with the whipped cream and fruit. A cooled custard or pastry cream could be poured over.


  • 4 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup (2.62 ounces) unbleached flour
  • 3/4 cup (2.62 ounces) cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter, add vanilla and set aside. Butter a half-sheet pan, line with parchment or waxed paper, butter the paper, set aside. In a large bowl (the metal bowl from a stand mixer works well) whisk eggs with sugar, set over (not in) simmering water and whisk desultorily until the eggs and sugar are very warm to a probing finger, then beat on high speed for 5 minutes or until volume has tripled. Meanwhile, sift or whisk together the flour and cornstarch. Take a large balloon whisk and whisk approximately a cup of the beaten eggs into the butter, then scrape back into the larger portion of eggs and fold in with the whisk. Fold in half the flour mixture, then the other half. Spread delicately into the prepared pan and bake until sides pull away from the pan, about 20 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack or, for a roll, invert onto a towel sprinkled with confectioners sugar and roll up tightly and allow to cool in the towel on a wire rack.

The Trifle is similar to a Summer Pudding, which is made by completely lining a 1 quart bowl with slices of firm-textured bread, filling with cooked sweetened fruit, reserving most of the juice. Cover the top of the fruit with more bread, make it all neat and juicetight, cover with a plate that will fit inside the bowl, weight that with a can or two and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. To serve, unmold onto a platter, spoon fruit juices over any bread that remains white, cut into wedges and serve cold with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. I'll bet this would be good made with some kind of honey/oatmeal or other whole grained bread.

In turn, this is related to Berry Bread Pudding, of substantial French bread sliced and soaked in a custard mixture of 2 eggs, two yolks, two cups whole milk, half a cup of sugar, a bit of vanilla and of salt, all whisked (not whipped) together, the bread layered in a baking pan, sprinkled with berries and sugar, another layer of soaked bread, then the custard mixture over all and baked in a slow oven (so as not to curdle the eggs).

Fruit Sauces are often made by simmering half the berries with an appropriate amount of sugar (to taste) and perhaps a bit of complimentary liqueur, thickening or not with a bit of cornstarch, and then letting it cool before folding in the reserved whole berries. These can be served with meats as well as with ice cream or over cakes.

Fruit Compotes are a mixture of fruits, sweetened or not, liquored or not, in a fanciful container (hollowed out melon) or not. Make a wine syrup, if you like, simmering together a sweet dessert wine or white wine and sugar, with a vanilla bean added, perhaps some ginger, and sprinkle over the fruit. Clafouti is a cross between an omelet, a crepe, a custardy pancake and a popover, traditionally a preparation of unpitted sour cherries, in which the cherries are placed in a buttered baking pan, and the crepe-like batter poured over and baked. The finished product is sprinkled with sugar, and it is similar to a large popover. Or, for that luscious thing, just make a Popover batter and put it all in a well-buttered glass pan, sprinkle with berries and bake in a hot oven, 475 degrees for fifty minutes or so, until puffed, and sprinkle with confectioners sugar. Waffles can be served with a jam or jelly, or a fruit sauce. Pancakes can, of course, be sprinkled with small fruits while cooking or on the plate, and Crepes may be served with a fruit filling and berry sauce.. Muffins can be filled with fruit and almost always are, particularly the little, low-bush blueberry.

Conserves incorporate fruits, nuts and perhaps a liqueur, as well as spices, cooked down into a preserve. The following is positively exciting.

Hoppin' John's Fresh Peach and Coconut Chutney

  • 5 pounds peaches, peeled and pitted
  • 5 pounds onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2 coconuts (1 to 1 1/2 pounds meat) removed from the shell, pared and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 3 1/4 pounds sugar (7 1/2 cups)
  • 5 jalapeno peppers, fresh, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4 pound (4 inches) ginger, peeled and grated or chopped
  • 1 quart white vinegar
  • 1 cup dark, mellow rum (optional)

Sterilize 5 pint canning jars and lids. Crush the peaches with your hands. Put all the ingredients except the rum into a preserving kettle, bring to a boil and keep at a low boil or a fast simmer until the onions are transparent and the desired consistency is reached. It will thicken as it cools, and John likes it watery so to be used as a poaching liquid, but it can be thinned down. Stir in the rum and pack into sterilized jars, then seal.

and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. You can simmer shrimp in it, roast pork or chicken in it, put it over cream cheese or eat it plain. I served it once with slices of sweet bread and vanilla ice cream and it was memorable. John does not use rum.

Serve crushed berries over: Polenta or corn meal mush, semolina, hot rice, angel food or sponge cake, French toast, pancakes or waffles. Top berries with pastry cream, custard, whole milk, heavy cream, crème fraiche, etcetera. To make a fresh berry Gratin, spread 2 quarts berries in a shallow pan. Mix 2 cups sour cream, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind and 1 teaspoon lemon juice, spread evenly over the berries, sprinkle with another 1/4 to 1/2 cup brown sugar and run under the broiler until the sugar starts to caramelize, about 4 minutes, and then serve at once. This is from Jasper White's Cooking from New England.

Pies can be baked or made into crescents and fried, the juices slightly thickened with 3 tablespoons of cornstarch or tapioca flour to 5 or 6 cups of berries or peaches. Or the berries can be cooked, as in Sauces and spooned over cream cheese filling or custard. Pies can be one-crusted, appliqued with pastry cut-outs, woven, or simply rolled out into a big round, the berry mixture mounded on, the sides drawn up like an old-fashioned pouch. Leave a vent in the middle of the pie and five minutes before finished baking pour in heavy cream.

Cordials and Brandys: I make a cherry brandy every year, putting two cups of sugar, a quart of pitted sour or pie cherries into a bottle with a liter of vodka and let it sit, swirling every day until the sugar is dissolved. I bring it out at Christmas. The drink tastes like wild cherries, and the cherries themselves are intoxicating. Truly. I've tried covering whole peaches with sugar and letting them ferment in their own juices, but the result is musty. I like to peel the peaches, leaving them otherwise whole, add a good amount of sugar and cover with vodka. By the holidays, again, you have a wonderful cordial, and the peaches make a great side dish to roasted meats.

Hoppin' John Martin Taylor makes a Cherry Bounce by shaking together in a quart jar 1 quart of wild cherries and 1 cup sugar, letting this macerate for several days for the juice to draw, then add 3 cups of bourbon or rye to the jar, to cover the cherries, lightly cover and allow to steep for 10 days. Strain.

He also makes a Peach Fuzzy by putting into a blender 1 jigger (1/4 cup) light rum, juice of half a lime, 1 tablespoon superfine sugar, 1 ripe fresh peach pitted, and 2 cups crushed ice, and processing. John, author of Lowcountry Cooking, also makes a Blackberry Vinegar: Cover ripe berries with white vinegar in a nonreactive pot and let stand for 24 hours. Next day, scald the mixture by bringing it just to the point of boiling. Strain, and add a pound of sugar to each pint of juice. Return the juice to the pot and boil for 20 minutes. "Pour a dollop or two over iced soda or seltzer water for a refreshing summertime drink, or into a glass of low-acid wine for wine, as for a kir. It is also delicious when splashed onto fruit salads, and it marries well with the pan juices from duck breasts or venison steaks when used to deglaze the pan." For a red raspberry Vinegar the last, soft, ripe berries are collected every day and put into a jar of white wine vinegar with a few of the leaves. This is let sit, someplace with a speck of light so that you can enjoy the crimson spectacle, for a couple of weeks, when the berries are strained out and the vinegar is stoppered and used all winter. This fragrant, colorful nectar is delicious in salad dressings, over vegetables, in certain soups. Or sweeten it with a simple syrup and pour into a glass packed with crushed ice for a refreshing, old-fashioned drink.

Ruby's Blueberry Tarragon Dressing:
1/4 cup sweetened cooked blueberries; ne1 curl of orange zest, 1 fresh tarragon branch, 2 tablespoons red wine whisked into 1 1/2 cups yogurt. Use blackberries with a bitey greens mixture such as watercress arugula, and chicory. Dress with 1 tablespoon smooth mustard, 1/3 cup white wine vinegar, a few teaspoons of crushed berries, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper whisked into 1 cup olive oil. Then, of course there are the Ice Creams (or sorbet and/or ices), for which use your favorite recipes.

In General: Use your imagination as to spices. I like a little nutmeg in lots of things, even savory dishes, but chopped fresh ginger can be nice, basil with peaches, rosemary with apples, thyme with blackberries, and lemon balm with blueberries. Or mint. Top berries with not too sweet, not too whipped heavy cream, crème fraiche or plain yogurt. Pandowdy is traditionally a breakfast dish, as is pie. Serve many of these 'desserts' as a side to savory dishes as well as a dessert. Sprinkle fresh blueberries or black caps into a turkey or ham salad, or over rich chocolate ice cream. Pour a little whole milk over most of these servings. Nothing goes with berries, and pastries as well as a little cream, which to our one-percent tastebuds is what whole milk tastes like these days. Or, go ahead, pour a bit of heavy cream over. Or ice cream.

Thanks to Richard Sax and his wonderful tome on Classic Home Desserts for the elucidation of many of the more esoteric terms.

And thank you Summer.

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