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Posts from the ‘Fruit’ Category

Making the Best of a Bad Purchase

I love Apricots and so does my 3-year-old son. Last summer he climbed up a ladder into an apricot tree and devoured 3 huge ones, never having tried one before. So in a fit of fear of missing the short apricot season entirely I purchased a case from a source I knew better than to trust in having good fruit. And I should have known better when, having asked the somewhat dumbfounded clerk if I could taste one before I purchased the case, I handed the other half to my son who took one bite and handed it back to me.

So I made two LARGE batches of jam, cursing my poor decision along the way. I typically add a bit of orange zest and juice to my apricot jam, something my grandmother always did (though she added pineapple as well) and with a bunch of lemon juice too, the jams are actually quite good. But now I understand why many people are uninspired by apricots.  There must be a lot of bad apricots out there. Apricots that are mealy and flavorless or hard and flavorless not sweet and juicy and musky and heavenly like they can and should be.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of driving through the Columbia River Gorge to Hood River to pick apricots and climbing ladders in the hot wind of the Gorge in mid-summer and eating and eating them up in the trees. And then driving home dusty and sticky, the car filled with the sweet warm scent of apricots.  They are really an easy fruit to work with too–a cinch to wash, no need to peel, and they’re free-stone.

So a few lessons from this experience. 1) I’ve been lucky to have grown up with good apricots. 2) Good products need much less doctoring and are delicious as is so if you’re after fresh eating, maybe better to skip them if they’re not very good. 3) The practice of breeding fruit (or veggies)  for portability and visual appeal rather than flavor is a shame. 4) I’ll buy my apricots from the farmers’ markets or u-pick in the future, even though I  know that this jam will be welcome in the dead of winter.

So today I decided to turn the final bowl of sorry fruit into a cobbler. This is hands-down my favorite cobbler recipe. It was originally written for Italian Prunes (or plums as most now call them) but is equally good with apricots and peaches or a combination or with the addition of a few handfuls of blackberries.

It calls for a bit of cardamom and crunchy turbinado sugar on the tops of the biscuits and is a perfect combination of juicy fruit and light, creamy biscuits. And the poor apricots, doctored up with lemon juice and zest, and said cardamom cooked up into a very good cobbler.

Apricot, Peach, or Plum Cobbler

–Adapted from Claudia Fleming

For the Biscuits:

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (or half all-purpose and half whole wheat pastry flour)

3 tablespoons sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

1 tablespoon turbinado sugar

For the Filling:

2 1/2 lbs of fruit (apricots, peaches, plums or a combination) to yield 6-7 cups

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375.

To make the biscuits, mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the mixture with a pastry cutter until the butter is the size of large peas. Stir the cream in with a fork and gather the dough into a ball. Turn it out onto a floured work surface and shape the dough into 8, about 2-inch balls. Place on a baking sheet and flatten slightly. Refrigerate for  20 minutes or up to 2 hours. If you’re in a hurry you can skip this step. I have had fine results as well.

Mix the fruit with the sugar and spices in a 2 quart gratin dish. I used cardamom and 3 teaspoons of lemon juice and the zest of half a lemon in my apricot version today and skipped the cinnamon. I also used a generous 1/4 cup of sugar. Taste the fruit before you bake the cobbler and adjust sugar to taste. Place the flattened balls of dough evenly on the fruit. Brush the remaining cream on the biscuits and sprinkle the turbinado sugar on top. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the fruit is bubbling and the top is lightly browned. Serve warm are at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

And apricot cobbler for breakfast is a treat, even with second-rate fruit!

Garden vs. Computer

I’ve been trying my best to write a blog post this morning. It is Tuesday which means blog post day. But then I remembered that I needed to check the planting calendar in my go-to gardening book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon and then I thought I’d better see if the spot I had in mind for summer squash was actually big enough. . . I get carried away in my little garden and tend to plant things too close together, forgetting year after year how gigantic squash plants get.  And then I saw some weeds that needed pulling, flowers that needed dead-heading, flowers that would make a lovely bouquet, arugula that needed thinning. . . . An hour later I’m back.

Typing away I notice that my hands are starting to look like my mothers’–a little cracked, with dirt embedded in them that no amount of washing will quite remove.  As I child I was often given the choice between “indoor chores” and “outdoor chores”. For  years I chose indoor, exclusively! I hated the feeling of dirt on my hands, especially as it dried and cracked. I hated pulling weeds. My mother lived in her garden and I just didn’t get it. Now I get it! I just want to be out there, pulling those weeds, sowing beans, digging in the compost, watching the volunteer sunflowers pop up everywhere. I love it!

Arugula and Mache Thinnings

Reflecting on this progression in my life is liberating as a parent when my son shows no interest in things I love or excessive interest in things I don’t. When I asked him  yesterday what I should write my blog post about today ( he’s 3), he said: “Chainsaw movies!”. He likes to watch logging videos on youtube (his uncle owns a sawmill, hence the obsession), which is what he means by chainsaw videos. Not that I don’t like chainsaws but they don’t inspire me.

Anyway, I’m going to wrap this up so I can get back outside. However, I’ll share a recipe for a crisp that I cobbled together (inspired by Heidi Swanson of 101cookbooks yet again) on the fly a few nights ago.

Strawberries for a future crisp!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Note: If you don’t have any port don’t worry, but it does add a lovely dimension.

Preheat oven to 375.

2-3 cups rhubarb, sliced in 1/2 inch chunks

1 1/2 – 2 cups whole strawberries, cut in half

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons Port (or 2 teaspoons good balsamic vinegar if you don’t have port)

For Topping:

3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

2/3 cup ground almonds (I use my little Zyliss cheese grater for this or you can pulse them in the food processor)

2/3 cup of rolled oats

scant 1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp kosher salt

6 Tbs butter, melted

Mix sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl, sprinkle over fruit and mix well. Add port, mix again and place in 9 x 12 baking dish.

Mix dry ingredients well in medium bowl. Stir melted butter into the dry ingredients and combine well with a spoon or with your fingers. Some dry spots will remain which is fine. Cover fruit with topping and bake until the fruit is bubbling and topping starting to brown, about 45 minutes.

Serve warm with whipped cream.

Weekday Breakfast and Memories of Summer

We u-picked a lot of berries last summer–strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and marionberries. For the first time, my son was old enough to toddle among the rows, eat berries and amuse himself (for the most part – I did have to cut one trip short because he was “harassing” another little boy). And I took full advantage! We picked 25 lbs of gorgeous and perfectly ripe strawberries one day. I hadn’t really thought through how I was going to process them all and didn’t have time for much. I rinsed them, hulled them and packed them in 1 quart yogurt containers and tossed them in the freezer. I thought I’d make jam or ice cream or sauce when I had more time. Well I did the same with the blueberries and the raspberries. I never made any of those other things except for a few batches of jam. So my generous stash of frozen berries has lasted me this long. I opened my last quart of blueberries and strawberries this morning for one of our favorite breakfasts.

Throughout the late fall and winter I’ve cooked a pot of steel-cut oats (I soak the oats over night which makes cooking them in the morning a quick affair) and topped them with frozen berries and maple syrup. It is perfect in so many ways. The berries thaw and soften in the steaming cereal and cool the oats down to a perfect temperature. The berries literally taste like they were just picked. As corny as it sounds, every bite is a vivid flashback to summer–the smells, the warmth, the dirt and berry juice under your fingernails.. .. it is lovely, warm, and nourishing. And a wonderful way to start the day.

This is also an incredibly inexpensive breakfast. You can’t beat the price and quality of fresh (frozen) u-picked fruit and steel-cut oats in bulk cost next to nothing. And then you can splurge on good maple syrup. All of this to say, if you have the chance to u-pick berries this summer and have a freezer, pick lots and lots and don’t feel badly about not processing them. You will enjoy the fruits of your labor (pun intended!) all winter long. I will remind you of this come June and we’re in the swing of berry season.

Steel Cut Oats with Berries

2 cups steel-cut oats

1/2 tsp of salt

water

Fresh or frozen berries

maple syrup (or brown sugar or honey)

The night before you’re planning on making this, put the oats in a bowl and cover with a couple inches of water. By morning the oats will have absorbed most if not all of it. Transfer the oats to medium-sized saucepan, add the salt and another 2 cups of water, cover, bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes. If you forget to soak them you’ll just have to cook them for about 30 -40 minutes with much more water in the morning.

Top with the fruit and maple syrup, stir well and eat!