Sweet Season  

It's August and that means fresh fruits are plentiful. Peaches, plums, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, and melons are just a few of my favorite things....

As a kid in New Jersey, the beginning of August meant two things to me. The first was the annual Atlantic County 4-H Fair. The entire year's worth of my sewing, canning and newly-learned cooking and baking techniques were delivered to judges in hopes of getting a coveted blue ribbon. The other thing I remember is that immediately after the fair ended, my mother started her freezing and canning for the winter ahead. 

Mom had it down to a science. She had this mental timetable of when every fruit and vegetable would be at its ripest. How she kept it all straight is still a mystery to me. Almost every morning we got into the car and visited a different farm. She bought peaches from Farmer A, plums from Farmer B, beans from Farmer C. Every year made her even more committed to who grew the best of anything she bought. Talk about a chain of personal suppliers! 

Once we got back home, the work began. We peeled, blanched, pitted, sliced and diced all day long. It all seemed very normal then. But, looking back, I find it incredible that she did so much and still managed to squeeze in dinner and keep the laundry basket empty.

I was reminded of all this recently when I made a trip back east to visit my family. Every time I passed by where one of those farms used to be it brought back memories. I'd forgotten how roadside farm markets offer delicious "just picked" treats from nature.

So, I thought it would be fun to talk about different ways to prepare and serve these treasures. Of course, it's always wonderful to eat perfectly ripened fruit by itself, but we all like variety in our lives. So come along and don't forget to bring some fresh fruit.

Elegant desserts are a snap to prepare this time of year. Here's a list of ones that have a fruit base.

Clafouti: Fruit covered with a batter and baked.

Cobbler: Fruit baked in a deep dish with a biscuit dough topping sprinkled with sugar.

Compote: Fruit cooked slowly in a sugar syrup and served chilled. Sometimes the syrup is made with a liqueur.

Crumble: Fruit topped with a "crumbly" mixture of brown sugar, flour and chopped nuts, such as almonds. Often called a crisp.

Flan: Custard and fruit baked together. 

Fool: Pureed fruit that's been chilled and then gently folded into whipped cream.

Melba: A dish invented by the French chef Auguste Escoffier. Peaches are poached in syrup and cooled. They're served hollow side down over vanilla ice cream. A Melba Sauce, made with raspberries and red currant jam, is drizzled over the top.

Pie: A dish made with a crust and a filling. There can be a bottom crust, a top crust or both.

Tart: A pastry crust with shallow sides and a filling - in this case, fresh fruit.

Need something a little simpler? Try these variations for your discriminating palate.

Grilling: Cut the fruit in half and gently toss in melted butter and sugar. Lay the fruit on a sheet of aluminum foil. Grill on each side until the sugar starts to brown.

Marinating: Steep the fruit overnight in a sweet dessert wine, such as Sauterne. The fruit absorbs the wine flavor.

Roasting: Instead of grilling the fruit, pop it in a 375-degree oven for about 15 minutes. Toss a splash of vanilla and an orange liqueur in the butter for an extra injection of flavor.

Plan Ahead

Don't forget to freeze a few containers of your favorite fruit too. Imagine being able to pull out a bowl of raspberries in November! For most fruits all you need to do is cut them into bite-size pieces and put them in a Tupperware type container. 

My mom always froze quite a variety of fruit each summer. Although we enjoyed it all year long, we looked forward to one occasion in particular. On Thanksgiving she made the most wonderful fruit salad. Our entire extended family marveled about all the fresh fruit and what a treat it was every year.

And finally, don't overlook making jams and preserves. If you're not comfortable with canning, try freezing. A little bit of homemade plum jam on your toast in January will help you remember that there really are four seasons.