Simple is the way to go with sun-ripened fruit


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Swedish cream -- buttermilk and cream, chilled with gelatin to a soft quiver -- is as cool and berry-friendly as midsummer on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Swedish Cream, after all, is Scandahoovian for panna cotta, "cooked cream." The difference is the Nordics use sour cream and the Italians use sweet.

One July at a weathered motel on Lake Superior offering rooms with screen doors that flapped onto a pebble beach and a dining room hospitable to barefoot eaters, the menu featured Swedish Cream topped with an inky sauce of berries from local brambles.

These were the same berries foraged by bearded monks at the cedar-shingled monastery up the road. There in their onion-domed citadel, so oddly placed on the Big Lake beach, they put long aprons over their brown robes and filled jars of wild fruit preserves to fund the cupola-repair fund.

It's berry time in Pennsylvania. If life hands you a cup of berries and not a peck, Deborah Madison's new book, "Seasonal Fruit Desserts," tells you just what to do with them. Choose from a family of Swedish Creams for example -- rich or light, but invariably unctuous, whether buttermilk, yogurt or creme fraiche-based. Each is paired with a vivid fruit sauce or compote of cherries, berries or apricots.

The farm market apostle's mission for this book: "to find out what makes fruit as compelling as it can be, so that it can be enjoyed fully, simply and without fuss."

Remember the phrase "without fuss."

The dairy-based desserts stand well in the refrigerator for three or four days, so you can add the handful or hatful of summer fruit when it comes your way.

For the accompanying sweet and sour cherry compote, organic farmer Jeff Mott from Farmers@Firehouse offered a tiny bag of sweet cherries; sour cherries came the next day from my yoga teacher's tree.

With apricots ripening, I can't wait to see Madison's "lush, electric-orange apricot sauce," flavored with cardamom, spooned around one of these creamy desserts.

If the farm market yields nil, there is nothing better than the lightly tart Swedish cream with honey, particularly a flavorful one from the Burgh Bees' hives.

Among the book's cakes, Almond Corn Right Side Up Cake is made entirely in the food processor. Flavored with almond paste and corn flour, it can be topped with almost any fruit. Dark berries are a natural with the corn flour. I did some freezer-gleaning, which yielded blackberries picked last summer, blueberries from a friend's Michigan trip and elderberries from last-season's farm market. Stone fruits are a match for the almond flavors, so peaches, plums and cherries, with their tiny bitter almond flavor, are good.

The cake is indestructible. Take it on a picnic, or, after a prime time use as a company dessert with a dollop of creme fraiche, leave the rest on the counter for breakfast.

For fun and elegance, the Broken Jellied Wine with Summer Fruit tops the list. Light and so easy, this dazzler is a grown-up shooter-fest, just jiggling an invitation. Any slightly sweet white wine with fragrance is good. A riesling, muscat or a bubbly such as prosecco would be terrific. I used an inexpensive frascati, thinking the more aroma the better. Wait until you peel back the plastic wrap on the jelled mixture and take a whiff. Shortly before serving, cut some gleaming cubes and shards and plop them into a pretty glass, tucking in lightly sugared berries and white peaches as you go. Melon is luscious too, echoing the perfume of the wine. Pour more wine over the dessert if you like. If no seasonal fruit is available, supermarket red raspberries and nectarines work well. Just let the nectarine ripen a day or two on the windowsill.

The ability to assemble combinations of flavors this simple and good is the mark of an author who digs deep into art and experience.

Ms. Madison, known for her best-selling "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" and "Local Flavors," celebrating farm markets, wrote her first cookbook, "The Greens Cookbook," in 1979, reflecting her fabled vegetarian restaurant that she founded in San Francisco.

Daughter of a botany professor and a gifted teacher herself, she understands the way real people cook. She has won multiple James Beard awards, along with every coveted cookbook honor out there, for inventive recipes that work.

A New Mexico desert-dweller, she is used to working around constraints. "My practice is to buy what's local, then supplement, but with as much care as possible. Which means I buy from the farmers I know of who are smaller scale farmers doing good work. And I buy from those who are closer, not farther away. If you look at the twist-ties at your local co-op, you can usually find a website for the farm that grew those carrots or whatever, then you can see if it's the type of operation you like and want to support, even if shipping is involved.

"I get annoyed with the government telling everyone to eat so many servings of fruits and vegetables, but doing nothing to address what makes fruit so good that you don't need to be told. Fruit is the most sensual, luscious, food there is."

If you want a taste of the Upper Peninsula experience, the monks' jams may be mail ordered: societystjohn.com/store.

Swedish Cream with Buttermilk Topped With Fresh Sweet and Sour Cherry Compote

PG tested

The author suggests improvising with this dessert, replacing half the buttermilk with the Apricot Sauce with Cardamom (see post-gazette.com/food) or any fruit puree -- except blueberries or blackberries because the color will be off. The dessert can be unmolded onto plates or spooned from small glasses.

  • Almond oil
  • 1 cup heavy cream, half-and-half or milk
  • 5 to 7 tablespoons organic sugar or half as much agave nectar
  • 3-inch piece vanilla bean, slit lengthwise in half
  • 2 cups cultured low-fat buttermilk or kefir
  • 1/4-ounce envelope unflavored gelatin

Rub 6 small ramekins with almond oil. (I used juice glasses and half-cup ramekins.) Heat cream with sugar and vanilla bean in a small saucepan. Once it reaches a boil, turn off heat. Pour buttermilk into a bowl and set it over cream for 15 minutes to remove the chill. Meanwhile, stir the gelatin into 1/4 cup cold water and let stand for 5 minutes to soften.

Remove the buttermilk. Take the vanilla bean out of the cream and scrape the seeds back in, reserving the pods to make vanilla sugar.

Bring the cream to a near boil, then turn off the heat and add the softened gelatin. Stir until it's completely dissolved, then whisk in the buttermilk. Pour the mixture into the ramekins or glasses and refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.

To serve, dip each ramekin into hot water, run a knife around the edge and turn out onto a plate. (Another trick is to push down with a thumb on one side of the gelatin, then the other, loosening the contents and making them easy to pop out.)

-- "Seasonal Fruit Desserts" by Deborah Madison (Broadway, 2010)

Sweet and Sour Cherry Compote

PG tested

Use about 1 tablespoon sugar for 1 cup pitted cherries. Three cups of sweet cherries is a good amount for 6 to 8 servings. Divide the cherries, sweet and sour, according to what you have.

  • 2 cups sweet red cherries
  • 1 cup sour cherries if available.
  • 2 tablespoons kirsch or maraschino liqueur

Pit the sweet cherries with a cherry pitter. (I used a chopstick, first nicking the non-stem end to push the seed through.) For the sour cherries, gently squeeze the seed to push it out the stem end into a bowl, saving juice. When all are pitted, put the cherries in a wide skillet in a single layer. (Do this in batches if needed.) Sprinkle the sugar over the fruit, then turn the heat to high. After a minute, give the pan a shake. The sugar will melt and the cherries will begin to release their juices. After 4 minutes, they should be sufficiently soft. Turn off the heat, add the kirsch, and turn the cherries and the sauce into a bowl.

-- "Seasonal Fruit Desserts" by Deborah Madison (Broadway, 2010)

Broken Jellied Wine With Summer Fruit

PG tested

Pretty, light, easy. Chop the gelled wine into cubes and slivers so that the pieces sparkle, pile into a clear glass and serve with summer fruit. Use riesling, or, the author suggests, a sparkler like Champagne or moscato di asti. Pink bubbly would be pretty to celebrate.

  • 1/4-ounce envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1/3 cup organic sugar
  • 1/2 cup wine or water
  • 1 1/2 cups sweet and/or sparkling wine
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups fruit, cut or sliced into small pieces and lightly sugared

Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/4 cup cold water and set it aside to soften.

Combine the sugar with the 1/2 cup wine in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the softened gelatin. Stir until it's thoroughly dissolved, then pour it into the rest of the wine along with the lemon juice. Mix well, then pour into a bowl or a compote dish and refrigerate until set. Wine seems to take longer to set than cream or fruit juices, so plan on at least 6 hours, or even overnight for a firm set.

Chop the jelly into cubes, then serve it in the compote dish or in wine or Champagne glasses interspersed with the fruit.

Serves 6.

- "Seasonal Fruit Desserts" by Deborah Madison (Broadway, 2010)

Right-Side-Up Cake with Summer Fruit Topping

PG tested

This moist almondy cake is made entirely in the food processor. Dense but tender-crumbed, it is a great carrier for seasonal fruit: berries, cherries, sliced peaches, quartered plums or apricots. Corn flour is sold at Market District and Whole Foods. Note: Grits or polenta are too coarse for this recipe; however either may be whirled at high speed in a blender, not food processor, for 3 or 4 minutes and made finer. That is what I did with good results.

8- or 9-inch cake or a 5-by-8-inch loaf size, or may be baked in individual ramekins

For the batter

  • 3 1/2 ounces almond paste ( 1/2 half package of Odense, or at Pennsylvania Macaroni portioned in various amounts)
  • 2/3 cup organic sugar
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt
  • 2/3 cup corn flour
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Confectioners' sugar for dusting

For the fruit

  • 1 1/2 cups fruit
  • 2 tablespoons organic sugar
  • Confectioners' sugar for dusting.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour your baking pan or dish. If using a pan without a removeable bottom, line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.

Pulse the almond paste with the sugar in a food processor until evenly combined. Add the butter and pulse until well amalgamated. With the machine running, add the eggs 1 at a time until well blended. Scrape down the sides, then add the flavorings and sour cream and blend until smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out. Pile the fruit over the top. Bake in the center of the oven until lightly browned and springy when pressed with a fingertip, about 1 hour or slightly longer. Let stand for 10 minutes; then remove from the pan. Dust with confectioners' sugar. Let cool to room temperature before slicing.

Servings: 8 to 10.

"Seasonal Fruit Desserts" by Deborah Madison (Broadway, 2010)

Apricot Sauce with Cardamom

Spoon this sauce around a Swedish cream, Coeur a la crème, or other creamy dessert.

  • 1 pound ripe apricots, halved and pitted
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons organic sugar, agave nectar, or simple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Put the apricots in a small saucepan with the sugar, 1/2 cup of water and the cardamom. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover the pan, and cook over low heat until the fruit has fallen apart, after about 10 minutes. Set a strainer over a bowl or a glass measuring cup. Pour in the fruit, then force the pulp through the strainer with a rubber spatula. Taste the sauce to make sure it's sweet enough-apricots can taste very tart when cooked. If so add more sweetener to taste.

Makes a scant 2 cups.

- "Seasonal Fruit Desserts" by Deborah Madison (Broadway, 2010)

Deborah Madison will be in Cleveland for a book signing at an Aug. 30, Farm to Table event at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens ($90 for nonmembers, cbgarden.org).


Freelance writer Virginia Phillips: vredpath@aol.com .


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