Holly Ebel: Get your fill of summer fruits
Here we are in July, mid-summer, and the best of the fruits are almost at their peak.
Old friends like raspberries, strawberries and blueberries are available year-round, but they don’t compare to what we can get now at roadside stands, farmers markets, pick-your-own spots and even grocery stores.
They also bring us healthy eating at its best with all sorts of essential nutrients, including potassium, vitamin C, fiber and folic acid. It’s recommended that we eat at least two servings a day.
Eating that amount is pretty easy to do with what’s available right now. Slice a peach and put it on top of your cereal, same with the berries. Added to smoothies, along with whatever else you throw in the blender, makes a drink that will keep you going most of the day.
Then there is the baking — pies, crisps, cobblers and muffins, as well as jams and other preserves like salsas, sauces and chutney. The temptation when we see these seasonal fruits is to overbuy, of which I am the chief offender. Raspberries can quickly become mushy and strawberries moldy, but blueberries seem to last.
We have many fruit choices. I’m thinking kiwi, mangoes, grapes and all the melons, but the following are those that I think best exemplify the flavors of summer:
• Raspberries, especially freshly picked. Their flavor is so consistent however you use them, whether in a bowl with cream and sugar or in a jam. They do lose their shape when baked in a pie with other berries, but their flavor shines through. In addition to the red, there are also golden raspberries and black. If buying from a store, check the bottom of the container. If stained or leaking juice, that shows they are too soft and/or overripe. If picking, do so in the morning for the best flavor. Treat them gently — they are fragile. One pint equals about 1¾ cups.
• Blueberries are our very own native berry — all the more reason to use them any way we can. There are two types: high bush, which are the ones we get, and low bush, smaller and sweeter. These, if you are persistent and lucky, you may find in the north woods if you get there before the bears. July is actually National Blueberry month. Peak season is from mid-June to mid-August. They freeze beautifully, so if you crave blueberry muffins or a pie, freeze them away. Also try pairing them with peaches in a pie or a cobbler. They love each other.
• Peaches may be the most popular. The first I bought in June were from Georgia. They were hard as a rock but I left them on the counter a few days and then refrigerated them. They were everything a peach should be — juicy and full of flavor. There are two types. Freestone is where the flesh easily separates from the pit, great for uniform slices. Clingstone are just that — the flesh clings to the pit. There is very little difference in taste. Peach cobbler, peach pie and just eating out of hand are the best ways to enjoy them. Peach jam and chutneys are also popular. Try putting peach halves on the grill for a few minutes — delicious. Watch for the Colorado peaches. They are especially popular and should be arriving soon. There is an old Chinese saying that eating peaches brings longevity and good luck.
• Cherries: From Bing to Rainer, who can pass by a bowl without taking a few? Just plain eating them is the best, but they also make delicious desserts like a clafouti. The freshest should feel firm and be a strong natural color, deep red to the golden yellow of the Rainier. The Montmorency cherry is the most popular of the sour cherries and makes the best pie you may ever have, though pitting them is a challenge. Cherries keep best unwashed and uncovered in the refrigerator, but rinse them well before eating. They’re only around for a short time, so get them when you see them, and get them with stems attached, as that keeps them fresh.
• Watermelon is the queen of summer and more than any other shows up everywhere people gather. It is a very social fruit and beloved by everybody. When the temperature soars, a cold slice hits the spot like nothing else. It’s also one of the few fruits where every part is edible except the seeds. A super hydrating fruit, it has a 91 percent water content. It has also recently become a popular ingredient in salads, oddly enough with tomatoes and feta. Most of us, I assume, still like it best the old-fashioned way with juice dripping down our chins and arms.
Even more to broast about
After my recent story on broasted chicken, readers who love that favorite dish as much as we do shared a few other places that serve it. Pizza Ranch in Stewartville serves trays at its noon buffets on weekdays. BB’s Pizza on North Broadway near Shopko offers it as well, as does Erdman’s in Kasson. Check them out.
C3: Summer fruit recipes.