My favorite part of summer is when you bite into your first peach of the season and the juice drips down your chin. Bliss.
I don’t have a big sweet tooth – I can pass up most desserts without a second thought – but I love fruit. When I was offered the opportunity to interview cookbook author and chef Deborah Madison about her newest cookbook, Seasonal Fruit Desserts, I jumped at the chance.
As we visited on the charming porch at Boggy Creek Farm, I asked Deborah why she chose to write a book about fruit desserts.
“I love desserts.” she said. “I worked as a pastry chef and have included desserts in my other books. This is a nice conclusion to years or writing primarily about vegetables.”
She continued, “Fruit is special because it so much more fragile than vegetables. It’s meant to be attractive so that we will eat it.”
She noted that much of the fruit in our stores is picked too early so that it can be shipped and tastes terrible. With the exception of citrus, which travels well, it can be difficult to find delicious fruit unless it is picked close to home.
Deborah said her husband Patrick always insisted that he didn’t like strawberries. She continued to buy berries for herself and, one week, bought strawberries from a farmers market in Santa Monica. He tried one of the market berries and loved it; he couldn’t believe that it was the same thing he had eaten before.
“With fruit, the dessert doesn’t have to be complicated,” Deborah said. “In a recipe like the white peaches in lemon verbena and lavender syrup, the fruit is the star.”
And fruit is definitely the star in this cookbook. In addition to everyone’s favorites like peaches, plums, apples, pears and cherries, the book includes less commonly used fruits like bronx grapes, lychees and persimmons. She even profiles the no longer commonly used paw paw. (You remember the paw-paw patch song
from childhood, right? Those are real.)
Deborah told me that paw paws, which grow in 26 states, have a tropical flavor somewhat like a mix between a mango and a banana. When the banana became so prevalent, the paw paw fell to the wayside.
Many of her recipes incorporate several local ingredients so that the final dish represents a sense of the place. The Wild Rice Pudding, for example, includes wild rice from a Michigan farmers market, maple syrup, maple sugar, and dried cherries cooked in red wine – all local ingredients in Michigan.
In an effort of full disclosure, I admitted to Deborah that I don’t cook many desserts because I don’t like to bake and am not that fond of sweets. She assured me that this cookbook includes many recipes for the pastry impaired, lending themselves to the feeling you get when you are cooking rather than baking.
Recipes like the Red Berry Soup and the Silky Tart Dough give me hope that even I can pull off a great fruit dessert. Silky Tart Dough is only two steps and makes more of a batter than a pie pastry. Even I, a baking challenged individual, should be able to pull this off.
Deborah described several delectable recipes for when fruits are not available, a problem during our extreme heat in the summer. The cookbook includes custards, Swedish creams and a winter squah cake with dates. She even recommends Pure Luck Dairy’s Hopelessly Blue in the cheese section.
As we were finishing our morning together, I asked Deborah what was the most important thing you could do to cook great food.
“That’s easy,” she said. “Be involved in your food. Start to ask the names of the fruits and vegetables you buy. If you can’t ask for something by name, then we lose the culture of it. There are hundreds of varieties of peaches, plums and other fruit, and it is helpful to learn the difference. When you ask for things by name then the farmer knows what to plant more of and what consumers like.”
Deborah’s enthusiasm for fresh food is contagious, and, for the first time ever, I’m excited to have new dessert recipes that I can’t wait to make. I guess there’s a first time for everything!
All photos by Jenna Noel.