Garden Lifestyle

Summer Fruits: From Salads to Shortcakes

When I eat a dead-ripe peach, it is usually over the sink with the juice dripping down my chin and hands.

Homemade buttermilk biscuits adorned with fresh berries and peaches macerated with lemon basil and a trickle of maple syrup and dollops of vanilla-infused whipped cream--it's the bomb! Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger

When I eat a dead-ripe peach, it is usually over the sink with the juice dripping down my chin and hands, with a slight slurping sound. It is a full-on sensory experience and I usually enjoy it most when no one else is around. When I am feeling more civilized, I peel a soft, heavy peach over the sink and then slice it into thin slices onto a plate and then sit down at the table with the plate of peaches and a fork and enjoy every piece. (I used to peel and slice peaches and nectarines for my kids all summer long until they were old enough to do it themselves–and then they still asked me to do it for them–it is inevitable that you will get sticky juice somewhere.)

I do this with most of the stonefruits of summer–nectarines, apricots and plums, though I don’t peel plums. What would a plum be without the counterpoint of sour skin to sweet juicy meat that makes your taste buds tap dance? Just imagining this makes my mouth water. And of course cherries are just pop-in-your-mouth (my favorite road food) no need to peel or slice. Unless I’m making a fruit salad, pie or cobbler and then they need to be halved and pitted, of course.

Strawberries are done for the season and raspberries are about to follow; blueberries, blackberries and dewberries are still to be had. Watermelon, cantaloupe and hondeydew rotate through the kitchen weekly–and any other exotic melons that I find at the farmers’ market. I am waiting for my ‘Moon and Stars’ watermelon to ripen in my garden. I cut melons into wedges or slices and keep them in the fridge for snacking throughout the day. I also do this with tropicals like mango, papaya and pineapple. There is nothing like sweet, nutrient-rich, fresh fruit for rehydrating a gardener during the dog days of summer.

I take any fruits that I have on hand and toss them together for fruit salad, which I especially enjoy for breakfast or any time I want a refresher during the day. Mostly, I eat it plain–if it is sour, I might add a drizzle of maple syrup, agave or one of my herbal syrups. I like to macerate a handful of herbs in with the fruit; just crush or tear the leaves in your hands and bury them under the fruit. My favorite herbs, both leaves and blooms, are the lemony-flavored ones like lemon basil, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon thyme–and the mints, especially orange mint and spearmint–pineapple sage or peach-scented sage (sometimes called tutti-frutti), anise hyssop, and red-flowered beebalm are also fun flavors.

Once I have the fruit salad prepared, it can go many directions. It can be garnished with yogurt or whipping cream. It often goes into the blender with a little juice added for a smoothie or with a shot of your favorite spirits and a handful of ice cubes, it makes a delightful frozen concoction. It can be a topping for ice cream or sorbet, poundcake or pancakes and waffles. However the very best option is on top of a biscuit made from scratch. And if it is a tangy buttermilk biscuit covered with ripe summer fruits and dolloped with fresh vanilla whipped cream… well that is about as good as it gets.

Although there are infinite delicious herb and fruit combinations, my personal favorite fruit and herb pairing is a perfectly ripe peach with lemon basil (‘Mrs. Burns’ Lemon Basil’ is my number one choice–although all lemon basils are good). I must confess that I await this seasonal treat almost as much as much as I anticipate the first summer ripe tomato with ‘Genoa Green’ basil. It is sublime.

Right now it is my first pick for flavoring water kefir–oh what a taste sensation when slightly fermented! Although cherry is a close second choice. In this weather, I have to “burp” them everyday since they ferment quickly. More about these delightful, healthy and thirst-quenching beverages in another blog…

Meanwhile, enjoy the summer fruits everyday while they are in season–and create your own inspired botanical-fruit combinations. Tell me what your favorite herb and fruit fusion is!

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