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I heard somewhere that the world is divided into cake people and pie people. OK, I admit that’s rather simplistic, but maybe there’s something to it. I do like a good cake, and I used to be a cake person, but now I consider myself a pie person. I love pies. There is a real artistry to making a good pie crust (to which I still aspire), and the variety of fillings is virtually endless. I didn’t really become a pie person until I moved to New England. The only explanation I can think of is that fruit pies are much more prevalent in New England than down South. Here in New England you can find blueberry pie, strawberry rhubarb, and apple pie at just about every farmer’s market you go to. Diners, fancy restaurants, and everything in between offer some variety of fruit pie.

Down South on the other hand, fruit goes in a cobbler. Pies are chocolate, chess, coconut, custard, sweet potato, pecan, etc…. Not that I think this is necessarily a bad thing. I love chess pie and Linda Dunnaway’s egg custard pie (sans traditional crust) is one of my all time faves, but I’m at heart a fruit person, and growing up, would always opt for the blackberry cobbler with ice cream over the custard pie. Well, taking all of these things into consideration, I’ve found the perfect pie. Fruit and custard, together in one pie crust. It’s heaven, I tell you. This is my hands-down-all-time favorite pie recipe (and you know already how much I love pie). The recipe is from Simply in Season. Those Mennonites sure know how to bake.

Note: I have a couple of go-to pie dough recipes, but I still feel like I need to experiment a little bit more before I blog about them; it just feels like a post for another time. I do recommend a homemade crust though. On the other hand, if you don’t like making dough, or don’t know how, you can make custard pies without a crust and they will form a kind-of crust of their own.

Pear Custard Pie

9-inch unbaked pastry shell
4-5 c. pears (peeled and sliced)

Place fruit in pastry shell.

2 eggs
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. butter (softened)
1 tsp. vanilla

In a small bowl beat together with an electric mixer until light anf fluffy. Pour mixture over fruit. Bake in preheated oven at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and continue baking until set, 30 minutes.

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We’ve had tomatoes for a little while; at least the farmer’s market has had them, but I haven’t really let myself enjoy them because I was waiting for our plants start producing. Slowly but surely we’ve been harvesting tomatoes, which is quite exciting. There is nothing like eating fruits and vegetables you grew yourself.

Last weekend during the birthday celebration I made a salad which was so easy it almost seems ridiculous to write it as a recipe, but here it is.

Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad

Cut up a bunch of yummy tomatoes of different varieties. If you can get your hands on some heirloom tomatoes great; go for different colors and shapes. If not, this salad is just as good with regular red homegrown varieties. Chop the tomatoes and put them on a plate or in a casserole dish. Slice some fresh mozzarella and put this over the tomatoes. Cut some fresh basil into a chiffonade and sprinkle over tomatoes and cheese. Drizzle with some high quality olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Voila!

I promise that if you go to the extra trouble to use top of the line ingredients you will be rewarded with this recipe.

Lastly,

I couldn’t resist posting about tomato sandwiches. I can’t tell you how much I love these. When I eat one I breath a sigh of relief because I know that summer is complete. To make a tomato sandwich really perfect the tomatoes have to be super ripe. Toast some bread (white is best but all I had was whole wheat – it’s better for you anyway), spread mayonnaise on both slices, add enough tomato to cover one slice (don’t add too much tomato though or you’ll overdo it). Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Eat this over the sink because it’ll be juicy and delicious!


I decided to take Amanda’s advice and make blueberry cornmeal pancakes with some of the blueberries I had left over after the pie. These turned out really really good. I added some blackstrap molasses because I’m trying to make sure that my 15 month old daughter gets enough iron, and molasses is one way I’m trying to sneak it into her diet (I try to get her to eat meat but she’s just not that into it). I also think it added some nice depth to the flavor. I made these the day before guests arrived. I let them cool and put them in the freezer. The next day I heated them up in a warm oven while I made bacon and eggs to go with them.

Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes

1 c. white cornmeal
1-2 tbsp. honey
2 tsp. molasses
1 tsp. salt
1 c. boiling water
1/2 c. milk
2 tbsp. butter, melted
2 tsp. baking powder
1 egg
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. (or so) fresh blueberries

Combine cornmeal, honey, molasses, and salt in a large bowl then slowly stir in boiling water. Cover and let stand for 10 min. Add milk, butter, and baking powder and whisk well. Add egg and whisk well. Finally, add flour and blueberries and mix quickly, don’t overwork.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium low heat. Melt some butter in the skillet; once melted add batter 2 tbsp. at a time, making sure that blueberries are evenly distributed in each pancake. Cook until bubbles form in batter, flip and cook other side. Adjust heat as needed. Stack on a plate or baking sheet and keep warm in a 200 degree oven.

What a great weekend we’re having. We’ve had family visitors in town, great weather, and a birthday celebration complete with lots of cooking on the grill and hanging out on the deck outside. Before the festivities ramped up though, I decided to go ahead and bake a “thank you” pie for my friends Diana and Travis, who brought me the blueberries for my freezer. They have been the recipients of many of my pies over the past couple of years as I try to master the art of pie-making. I didn’t taste this one, but Diana said it was good and “had lots of blueberries.” Well, yes. That’s the point. Lots of blueberry goodness.

When we were in Maine last weekend I picked up a copy of Cooking Down East by Marjorie Standish. It’s a great cookbook with some old fashioned Maine recipes in it. The recipe doesn’t say to, but to be safe I covered the edges of the pie with aluminum foil until the last 15-20 minutes of baking. Also, I sprinkled crushed sugar cubes over the top before putting the pie in the oven.

Maine Blueberry Pie
recipe by Marjorie Standish

Pastry for a 2-crust pie (see below)
4 c. blueberries
1 c. sugar
2 tbs. flour
dash of salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. butter

Line pie plate with pastry. Mix sugar and flour, spread about one fourth of it on lower crust. Fill with blueberries. Sprinkle remainder of sugar mix over them. Add salt, sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon. Dot with butter. Place top crust on pie, flute edges and cut slits. Bake at 425 degrees for 40 minutes.

I’ve used lots of different pie crust recipes and have decided that I enjoy making them by hand more than in a food processor. You can just tell what’s going on more that way. That said, if you are in a hurry or if it’s an especially hot day in your kitchen it’s probably better to go with the food processor.

Pastry crust

2 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. shortening
1/4 c. butter
ice water

Sift together flour and salt. Using a pastry cutter cut shortening and butter into flour until there are pieces the size of peas. Add ice water, a tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork until the mixture holds together when pinched between your fingers. Form the dough into a ball without handling too much. Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or so. After it has chilled, cut in half with a pastry cutter and gently roll out the dough into two circles.

As I write I realize that I could write a whole post on pie crusts and pies. I think I’ll save the details for later when I have more time to think about it and do it right. I think this might be the official start of pie season!

I had a couple of occasions to entertain this weekend and found myself making different versions of bruscetta or finger sandwiches. This is the only one I happened to get a picture of (which is a shame because the heirloom tomato bruscetta was really beautiful). Down South figs grow really well and are usually used to make preserves. Up here in the Northeast they are hard to come by and expensive. Quite a treat!

Grilled fig, prosciutto, and goat cheese toasts

6-8 whole fresh figs
goat cheese
baguette
prosciutto
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice baguette and brush with olive oil. Bake until bread is toasted, 5 min. or so (in a pinch you can skip this step and just use freshly slice bread). Meanwhile, slice figs in half lengthwise and cut off the stems. Brush them with olive oil on both sides. Heat a grill pan over medium heat and grill figs fruit side down for 2-3 minutes. Once the figs have browned a bit flip them over and grill the other side. Wrap grilled figs in strips of prosciutto and let them rest on a plate. Spread goat cheese on the toast and top with figs.

Makes 12-16 toasts

I currently have two gardens: the one in my backyard, and the one at my friend Diana’s house. Here at my house I have a couple of healthy tomatoes, some lettuce, kale, canteloupe, summer squash, bush beans, eggplant, and cilantro that are all doing well. But, as I said, I have a shady yard so the kitchen garden is a bit of an experiment for me. My hands-down favorite garden vegetable is the tomato, which really needs a fair amount of sun. Because I feared tomatoes wouldn’t do well in my shady yard, I decided to join forces with Diana who has a sunny yard but also has an infant and needed help with the garden.  Everything is growing really well over there. The tomato plants are absolutely bursting with several heirloom varieties, and in a couple of weeks we are going to have our hands full; I can’t wait! As you can see we’ve already harvested a few, in addition to some herbs, lettuce, beans, and nasturtium (which is edible; a light peppery flavor, great in salads). I’m already contemplating what to do with all the tomatoes we’ll have. Let me know if you have any good ideas. Tomato sandwiches and tomato tarts come to mind, but I’m open to suggestions.

On Wednesday I picked up some sugar plums from the farmer’s market that were beautiful and super sweet with a deliciously tart skin. I forgot to take a picture before I cut them up and put them in a plum tart, but take my word for it they were beautiful. I enjoyed this tart with some friends who came over last night; by the time I took this picture we’d already eaten half of it. The recipe below is from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks: Simply in Season. It’s a cookbook commissioned by the Mennonites, and as it says in the preface, is a cookbook about “foods that are fresh, nutritious, tasty, and in rhythm with the seasons.” I’m not a Mennonite, but I’ve enjoyed many recipes out of this cookbook. We served the plum tart with ice cream and it was delicious.

Plum Tart

Shortbread Crust (see below)
1 tbsp tapioca (optional) but highly recommended; I didn’t use it and the tart was pretty watery
small blue plums (halved and pitted) mine weren’t blue; just use what you have
3/4 c. sugar yes, this is a lot; you could probably cut down on it, but I promise it’ll be darn good if you use the full amount
2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Sprinkle tapioca on the unbaked crust. Arrange plums in the crust, cut side up, (I actually misread this and did them cut side down and it turned out fine), making slightly overlapping concentric circles starting at the outside. Fit as many plums into the pan as possible.
Mix cinnamon and sugar together and pour over the plums. Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees until plums are soft and filling is boiling, about 45 min. Cool on a wire rack. Serve with whipped cream.

Shortbread Tart Crust
1 c. flour (may use up to 1/3 c. whole wheat pastry flour)
1/3 c. butter
2 tbs. powdered sugar

In a mixing bowl, mix together until crumbly, with no pieces bigger than a pea. Press into a 9 in. pie pan or tart pan. Bake in preaheated oven at 425 until golden, 10-12 min. Cool. Fill with favorite berry or other fruit filling. (note: for the plum tart the crust does not need to be baked ahead of time)