Harvest is fully upon us this month. Most of our cooking consists of picking whatever veg is ripe and making a salad, or roasting it as a side dish to a simply prepared meat. More accurately, the meat is the side dish, and the veg takes center stage. Warm tortillas stuffed with roasted peppers and onions, and topped with a few slices of marinated grilled skirt steak; lashed with guacamole or sour cream or homemade salsa. Warm pita slathered with homemade cucumber tzatziki, piled high with cherry tomatoes and extra cucumbers, garnished with some grilled chicken. Drumsticks glazed with soy sauce and honey, with a side of cucumber/tomato salad dressed with rice vinegar and Mirin. Thickly sliced tomatoes with a hunk of fresh mozzarella and a sprinkling of basil, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, with herby focaccia. You get the idea. No recipes necessary.
I get the weeklyish newsletter from Essex Farm, which is a full-diet CSA in upstate NY (oh yes, I would join if I lived nearer, I truly love this idea). In the latest newsletter, I was struck by this sentence: “If you have abundant herbs, good butter, salt and fresh vegetables, what more do you really need in the kitchen? That’s the beauty of summer food. It’s nearly impossible to be a bad cook this time of year. If you are spending any time wondering what to make these days, my advice is think less, do less, see how naked you can get food to the table, and how delicious it is anyway.” Amen and amen.
Meanwhile, it is my absolute pleasure to pick from the groaning berry bushes and make delicious desserts. I like them all in all their forms - Buckles, Cobblers, Slumps. My most recent edition of Cook’s Illustrated has a little glossary of fruit desserts, which has really helped me understand what’s what:
Sonker: Syrupy cooked fruit baked under a pancake batter.
Pandowdy: Pie dough or bread that is pressed into fruit as it bakes.
Slump/Grunt: Fruit cooked beneath dollops of soft dumpling dough that ‘slump’ under heat.
Crisp: Fruit baked under a crunchy, streusel-like topping, which often contains oats.
Crumble: An oat-free streusel baked over fruit.
Cobbler: Biscuit dough dolloped over fruit to resemble cobblestones.
Buckle: Thick cake batter poured over fruit, usually with streusel.
Brown Betty: Sweetened fruit baked with layers of bread crumbs and butter.
Cake: Cake batter topped with unsweetened fruit.
Clafoutis: A tart made with fruit baked in a sweet eggy batter.
Let us not forget the British ‘Summer Pudding,’ made from fruit, sugar, and stale white bread all pressed together using a weight. The juice of the fruit saturates the bread and makes it a sort of molded shape. This is absolutely NOT my favorite thing, but it is certainly a clever way to use up stale bread.
The cake in the above photo was made using my favorite strawberry cake recipe from Martha Stewart; it’s simple and highly adaptable to any fruit. Once you start making these different fruit desserts, you will hit on recipes that you can adapt to whatever you have on hand. You can make a streusel out of almost anything and it will taste good. If it’s oat or granola based, that could even be breakfast rather than dessert. Nothing tastes as good on a cold late-autumn morning than an apple crisp. You could even cook the apples the night before, pop them in the fridge, top them with a quick streusel in the morning and bake. Serve with yogurt!
My other kitchen projects consist of preserving everything I am able, for winter. Hanging herbs on the drying racks. Extra berries in the freezer. Blanched green beans in the freezer. Simple tomato/basil/garlic sauce in jars in the freezer for winter shakshuka. This weekend we will make and can our first batches of crushed tomatoes and garlic dill pickles. I will also make our first batch of freezer pesto. Tom’s already made both sweet and dill relish, as well as jam. From now through October, this will be our focus. I’ll make and can salsa, make and can tomato paste, dry and smoke herbs, hot peppers, and spices. I’ll roast and freeze sweet peppers. And we’ll continue to eat everything fresh, as much as we can, as often as we can.
What are you harvesting, eating, and preserving from your garden?