Seasonal Pantry: July is fruit nirvana for bakers
The sweetest season is upon us, as berries of all kinds and succulent stone fruit are abundant on our vines and trees and in our farmers markets. Santa Rosa plums are plump and juicy, pluots are starting to appear, and strawberries are increasingly irresistible. One day soon, we will have Arctic Gem White Peaches from Dry Creek Peach and Produce.
It's time to enjoy them now, before our first apples, the beloved Gravenstein, appear in a few weeks.
My preferred way of indulging in summer's fruit harvest couldn't be simpler: I eat them, sometimes chilled, sometimes not. As the season unfolds, I make chutney and shrubs, but not until I've had my fill of the fruit neat. Next come galettes and by the time Gravensteins ripen, I am ready to make thin-crusted tarts, my favorite way to prepare Gravs. I like stone fruit grilled, too, over the dying embers of an outdoor feast.
But there are so many ways to enjoy this bounty. Some of us prepare desserts we remember from our childhood - the pies, crisps and cobblers our mothers, aunts, and grandmothers made, if we were lucky.
Depending on our age and where we grew up, some of us remember the fruit desserts that were common in early America - Brown Betty, pandowdy, buckles, slumps, and, my favorite, grunts, named for the sound the fruit makes as it bubbles on the stove.
These desserts can all be traced back to that all-American indulgence, apple pie.
Cobblers are very easy to make and require very little last minute attention.
If you put a cobbler into the oven just before you sit down to dinner, it will be ready by the time you are ready to serve salad, if you prefer salad after the main meal, as I do.
Take it out of the oven, let it rest, and then linger over the last of the wine and conversation. If there is any left, enjoy it for breakfast.
Makes 8 servings
4 cups strawberries, stemmed and sliced
1 pound rhubarb, washed, peeled, and cut into ½-inch pieces
1¼ cups sugar, plus more to taste and for the dough
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoon (¾ stick) butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and chilled, plus more for the baking dish
¾ cup whole milk
In a large bowl, combine the strawberries, rhubarb, ¾ cup of the sugar, and the vanilla, and toss lightly. Cover and set aside for 1 hour. Taste the juices that have collected, and, if they are too tart, add an additional ¼ cup sugar. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
For the topping: Put the flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl. Add the butter and, using your fingers or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the milk and stir very quickly to blend; do not overmix.
Butter a 9-by-11-inch glass baking dish, and pour the fruit mixture into it, shaking the dish to spread the fruit evenly. Top with the batter, using a spatula to spread it over the surface of the fruit as best you can (it will smooth out during baking). Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over the top and bake for 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the fruit hot and bubbly.
Remove from the oven and let rest 10 to 15 minutes before serving neat or with vanilla ice cream.
When I first began making this dessert, I used about a third of a vanilla bean and removed it before adding the dumpling dough. These days, though, I use a bit of vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste, which is more cost effective. There is a worldwide shortage of vanilla and the cost has soared.
White Peach Grunt
Makes 6 to 8 servings
8 ripe white peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of ground cardamom
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup buttermilk, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon sugar mixed with ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Put the peaches, ? cup sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and cardamom into a medium skillet - cast iron is ideal - and stir gently. Taste and add more sugar, a tablespoon at a time, if needed to suit your preference. Cover and let rest 30 minutes.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes, until the peaches have softened but are not falling apart.
While the peaches rest, make the dumpling dough. Put the flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a mixing bowl and stir well. Add the butter, stir again, and pour in the buttermilk. Stir quickly to form a soft, sticky dough that is slightly wetter than biscuit dough, using a bit more buttermilk if needed.