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Fruit close to its source

(article, Deborah Madison)

p(green). A giveaway: Three days, three books. We're giving away three copies of Deborah Madison's new dessert book on Culinate. Leave a comment until Friday, April 16, at noon PT, for your chance to win; we'll draw three winners from among all the commenters. Just tell us your favorite fruit, and what dessert you like to make with it. Good luck everyone!

p(blue). Editor's note: We congratulate our longtime contributor Deborah Madison, whose new book, Seasonal Fruit Desserts, has just been published by Broadway Books. We already love the book for its gorgeous photos and design, and for its seasonal approach to sweets. Deborah's perspective on the book is here.

Five years ago, when I began work on Seasonal Fruit Desserts, I called it "Desserts for the Pastry Impaired," because, well, I’m somewhat pastry-impaired. It’s not that I can’t roll out a pie crust, but when it comes to making picture-perfect, architectural desserts, I’m just not that adept at, or interested in, such feats. 

Instead, I wanted to approach desserts in a more relaxed fashion, as a cook, which fruit lends itself to so very well. The book that finally emerged, Seasonal Fruit Desserts — a different title, but similar content — is actually a good fit, because fruit is produce, and produce is my long-abiding love interest. 

Unlike vegetables, however, fruit, to be good, has to remain closer to the place it was raised. Which means it must be local and seasonal, and it must be a good variety — that is, mid-season fruit bred for flavor, not for its abilities to ship and store. 

[%image tall float=right width=300 caption="Fill a tart shell with Green Rhubarb Purée With Grapefruit."]

Think about it: It’s much harder to find a great plum than to find a great parsnip or even, these days, a great tomato, especially if you look no further than your (natural) supermarket. 

Once again, farmers' markets, orchards, and back yards were the places I went to find good fruit and learn about which varieties are stellar and why. As in Local Flavors, there are stories and information about the fruit itself as well as recipes.

When starting with fine fruit, one doesn’t really need recipes, though maybe some ideas for ways to combine fruits on a platter. This is where the book begins, before moving into compotes and roasted and sautéed fruits, then on to some classic American approaches before moving to tarts and galettes. 

Following these very fruit-centric desserts, the book next considers fruit as an accompaniment. I’m thinking of a Semolina Pudding with Wine-Soaked Cherries, or the half dozen cakes that can accompany fruit compotes through all the seasons. Dried fruits play a big role, as those eating seasonally will have more reason to rely on them. Also prominent are the more interesting regional nuts one might come across in farmers' markets, and grains, too. 

Because our nation’s new cheeses are frankly divine paired with fruits and nuts, they are included too. (Think of Pure Luck’s Hopelessly Blue — such a great name and an even greater cheese — with the Texas pecans that grow nearby.) The book concludes with a chapter on sauces that can be made with one’s excess of fruit, such as an apple caramel sauce or a persimmon purée.  

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What doesn’t get a big mention is chocolate. I’m of the have-a-small-good-piece school, preferably with a Medjool date, a Pixie tangerine, and a few fresh-cracked walnuts. But for those who want more, there is more, including a moist steamed chocolate cake.

Early April is probably the worst month for fruit in most parts of the country. We’re tired of dried fruits, and the strawberries and rhubarb are not yet here for most of us. That leaves citrus. Still, the rhubarb is coming, so here is a simple purée to eat as is, make into a fool, fill a cornmeal tart shell, or pair with a spoonful of Ricotta Mousse. It’s made with a green heirloom rhubarb called Victoria, but you can use red stalks as well.

p(bio). Deborah Madison is the author of numerous award-winning cookbooks, including Local Flavors. She lives in New Mexico.


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