Summer means getting sand between your toes, loving the smell of sunscreen and strolling around the neighborhood after dinner. It also means enjoying all of the fresh fruits available as the last days of spring fade, their sweet bounty stretching into fall.
By fresh, we don’t mean something picked a few days ago in another time zone or flown in from another country. The Brandywine Valley is blessed with a half-dozen orchards, roadside produce stands, food co-ops and farmers’ markets in practically every town.
After you’ve made your selections and unloaded your bounty on the kitchen counter, it’s time to revisit your food-and-drink choices—both old favorites and new passions. Here are a few to get you started.
Fill a party bowl with Sangria. The key to a good Sangria is making it fruity but not too sweet—it thrives on freshness and acidity. To get the proper flavors to blend with locally produced red wines, mix smaller fruits like berries and cherries with chunks of watermelon, pears, peaches and plums. Add sparkling wine or seltzer for zing.
Blend everything in a large bowl according to your own taste, adjusting as you go to get the right balance of flavors. Refrigerate to meld flavors, then serve cold over ice.
Blend a fruit smoothie. Whether you’re being good (low-fat yogurt, milks that never saw a cow) or bad (bring on the ice cream), pre-crush whatever local fruit is in season and chill it before blending so you don’t have to dilute it with ice. The more fruit (and the less dairy) the better.
To add a little kick and extra flavor, try a dash or two of liqueur to match your fruit—framboise with raspberries, poire with pear, Chambord with cherries, and so on.
Serve berries and crème fraîche for Sunday brunch. Never made crème fraîche? It’s time to learn. Blend 2-3 tablespoons of cultured buttermilk into 2 cups of heavy cream and place in a container. Tightly covering it with cheesecloth or a kitchen towel, let it sit for 24 hours at room temperature to do its magic. Then stir it, screw on the lid and refrigerate for another 24 hours.
If you don’t have time to wait, you can always buy crème fraîche at Janssen’s or another specialty supermarket. A tablespoon or two goes especially well over berries.
Whip up a chilly granita. Puree 2 pounds of fresh strawberries, blackberries or raspberries (good for a seedy crunch) in a blender with . cup sugar, a cup of water, a kiss of lemon or orange juice, a dash of balsamic, and a pinch of salt. Freeze in a long, flat metal container (an inch or less thick) for 45 minutes. Stir with a fork, getting in all those crystals on the sides, and repeat every half hour or so until you see individual crystals. Scrape and serve in pudding dishes. For panache, sprinkle on some coconut flakes.
Exercise your adult blending skills. Vodka is to making cocktails what grilling is to cooking. Any fool can do it, so feel free to assign the task to us men. Puree any fruit—from apples to pomegranates to peaches to wild wine berries—and let it chill in the fridge for an hour or so. When its ready to serve, put a teaspoon of the puree into a martini glass and add plain vodka to whatever level you can carry across the room without spilling. Stir gently. (It’s OK to use a non-plastic straw.) For variation—and to add botanicals to your drink—try gin instead of vodka.
Bake a peach-and-berry cobbler. A cobbler is the easiest pastry dessert to make. Unless you have time on your hands to make crusts or you want to show off, take two prepared roll-out crusts (the kind Pillsbury makes) and let them warm to almost room temperature. You can use a traditional round pie pan, but I prefer a rectangular glass baking dish. With your fingers, shape one crust to fit the baking dish, with a lap-over rim. Add sliced peaches to the dish (2 or 3 should do it) followed by 2 cups of fresh berries. Sprinkle on some white or brown sugar—to bring out the flavors as much as to sweeten it. Dot with real butter.
Take the second crust, roll it out slightly, then tear it into a half dozen pieces to quilt across the top. Bake in a 350-degree oven until the berries and peaches are bubbling and the crust is golden. Cool and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.
Make a fluffy sabayon. Sabayons (French) or zabagliones (Italian) are showy and easy to make at the end of a sit-down meal. Take 4 martini glasses and put . to . cup of fresh berries into each. Set out 4 eggs, . cup of white or brown sugar, and a half cup of port, sweet sherry or brandy.
Using a double-broiler, whisk together the sugar and the egg yolks (save the whites for another day) and continue whisking every minute or so until the mixture becomes paler and a little fluffy—about 5 minutes. Stream in the port as you whisk and continue whisking for about 5 minutes more until the mixture thickens, leaving trails as the whisk passes through. Pour the sabayon equally over the berries in the four glasses, decorate by sticking a pirouette cookie into the mixture like a straw. Serve immediately with a small spoon.
Finally, the best way eat fruit. When I was a kid, I loved to raid Uncle Les’ strawberry patch. Years later, when I was into distance running, I’d take a welcome break mid-run to pick a handful of wine berries growing wild along the back roads of Landenberg in late June. If you live on a farm or have a backyard garden, after you’ve had your first cup of coffee, slip outside barefoot to raid the bounty.