Fruits of the Season


Stone fruits come into their own in the summer. Sure, we can get apricots, plums and peaches trucked or shipped in from California, Chile and overseas practically year-round. But there are no apricots, peaches, plums or nectarines that have the exquisite, honey-like flavors of locally grown produce in their prime season. Visit farmer's markets and stores that display local produce and build your menus around what is available on any given day.

Stone fruits — those fruits that have a large pit in the center — have an illustrious history. Golden apricots have been grown in China for more than 4,000 years. Now, California produces about 90 percent of the American crop. The pit falls out easily when the fruit is halved.

Plums are cultivated all over the world. They range in shape from oval to round, and their color can be yellow, green, red, purple, blue and almost anything in-between. Very firm plums will soften when stored at room temperature for two to three days.

Peaches are also native to China, brought to the New World via Persia. There are generally two types: freestone, which as the name suggests, the stone falls out easily when halved, and clingstone, where the stone clings fast to the flesh. Most clingstones are used for commercial purposes. When purchasing, make sure these fruits don't feel too hard or too soft when gently pressed, and there should be no pre-existing soft spots or bruises.

Nutritionally, stone fruits are packed with antioxidants, such as vitamins A and C (defenders against "free radicals," which can harm human cells), and have even been linked to fighting certain kinds of cancers.

Make the most of these stone fruits by eating them raw. As a healthy snack, they need no embellishing. But for some sweet summer recipes, see below.

Sweet Ricotta and Summer Fruit 'Bruschetta'

A beat-the-heat dessert for a hot summer's day. No cooking; just assemble.

12 slices French bread, about 1/2-inch thick 
cinnamon-sugar to sprinkle 
11/2 cups ricotta cheese 
2 Tbsps. honey 
1/4 tsp. orange extract 
2 peaches, pitted, each cut into 12 thin wedges 
4 plums, pitted, each cut into 6 wedges 
1-2 Tbsps. orange or lemon juice 
6 strawberries, halved 
mint sprigs (optional)

Lightly toast the bread in a toaster. Arrange on a tray.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, 2 tablespoons honey and orange extract.

Spread over each slice of toasted bread. Arrange 2 peach wedges and 2 plum wedges on top of each slice.

Brush with orange or lemon juice. Top with two strawberry halves.

Drizzle with a little more honey, if desired. Garnish with a mint sprig (optional) and serve.

Makes 12 pieces.

Approximate nutrients per piece: calories, 160; protein, 6 g; carbohydrates, 24 g; fat, 5 g; cholesterol, 16 mg; sodium, 179 mg.

Peach Pie With Almond-Crumb Topping

Although most recipes call for peeled peaches, I leave the skin on. It adds extra fiber and peachy flavor.

6 cups sliced peaches 
1/2 cup sugar 
3 Tbsps. all-purpose flour 
2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice 
2 Tbsps. finely grated lemon zest 
1/2 tsp. almond extract 
1 deep-dish pie shell (9 to 10 inches)

Topping Ingredients

1 cup slivered almonds 
2/3 cup oatmeal (not instant) 
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed 
6 Tbsps. chilled butter, cut in 1/2-inch chunks

Preheat oven to 400°.

In a large bowl, combine all the filling ingredients, tossing to mix well.

Spoon into the pie shell and place on a baking sheet (to avoid spills in the oven). Bake for 30 minutes.

To Prepare the Topping: Place the almonds in the food processor bowl; chop coarsely.

Add the oatmeal, sugar and butter. Process for 10 to 15 seconds, or until ingredients are forming thick crumbs. Do not overprocess.

Spread over the peaches.

Reduce heat to 375°. Bake for 30 minutes longer, or until bubbly. Cool before serving.

Serves 8 to 10.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 473; protein, 5 g; carbohydrates, 68 g; fat, 20 g; cholesterol, 23 mg; sodium, 283 mg.

Apricot-and-Plum Gratin

In this easy recipe, nectarines or peaches may be substituted for apricots.

6 apricots, pitted and quartered 
4 plums, pitted and quartered 
1 cup sour half-and-half or low-fat sour cream 
1 Tbsp. sugar 
6 Tbsps. brown sugar

Preheat the broiler.

Arrange the apricots and the plums over the bottom of a medium gratin dish.

In a small bowl, mix the sour cream or half-and-half, and the sugar. Spread over the fruit in the gratin dish.

Sprinkle brown sugar over to cover.

Broil 3 to 4 minutes under a preheated broiler, until the sugar is beginning to brown and is bubbly. Watch carefully to avoid scorching. Cool before serving.

Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 157; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 27 g; fat, 5 g; cholesterol, 15 mg; sodium, 22 mg.

Stone-Fruit Summer Salsa

Spoon this over ice-cream or frozen yogurt, or spoon into wine glasses and serve "au naturel."

1 lb. (5 to 6, depending on size) plums, pitted and cut in 1/4-inch chunks 
2 apricots, pitted and cut in 1/4-inch chunks 
1 nectarine, pitted and cut in 1/4-inch chunks 
3 Tbsps. fresh lime juice 
2 Tbsps. grated ginger root 
2 Tbsps. shredded fresh mint 
2 Tbsps. seasoned rice vinegar 
2 Tbsps. sugar or to taste

Toss all ingredients in a bowl.

Serve chilled.

Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 67; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 16 g; fat, 0 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 99 mg.

Peach-Banana Smoothie

2 peaches, pitted and cut in quarters 
1 banana, thickly sliced 
1 cup white grape juice 
1/2 cup orange juice 
1 container (6 oz.) low-fat peach yogurt 
honey to taste

Place all ingredients except the honey in a blender jar. Cover and whirl at high to blend.

If desired, sweeten with a little honey to taste.

Pour into tall glasses.

Makes 2 servings.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 243; protein, 5 g; carbohydrates, 54 g; fat, 1 g; cholesterol, 6 mg; sodium, 59 mg.

Ethel G. Hofman, author of the recent Mackerel at Midnight, is also a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.


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