“Fruit, more than any of the other foods we consume, has the power to go right to the heart of our being. Fruit is sweet. Fruit is beautiful to look at and beautiful to smell. Fruit teaches us the meaning of time and eternity.“ Alice Waters-Chez Panisse Fruit
Rereading this passage from the introduction to Alice Waters delicious Fruit cookbook made me think about patience, and the lifecycle of plants and trees, fruit trees in particular. Is there anything more satisfying that watching something you have planted grow and bear fruit? The lifecycle of almost any fruit tree echoes the seasons. A cool dormant winter, the flourish of blossoms in the spring, the tantalizing ripening in the summer, followed by a gratifying harvest.
I have, sporadically over the past three years, planted as assortment of fruit trees; a lemon, fig, peach, donut peach, nectarine, apricot and apple, in the hope that they will blossom, and bear a prodigious quantity of fruit which I can subsequently eat, cook with, and preserve.
I had hoped for a six-month long feast of fruitful fecundity, beginning with divine Blenheims in June, ending with crunchy-sweet tangy Fuji in mid-Autumn, with a final flourish of magnificent Meyers to cap off the winter months. The results have been very mixed, due in large part to their being planted in pots, albeit very large ones, and my belief that they will just get on with the business of growing, blossoming, pollinating and producing a juicy product without my having to intervene too much. I had chosen varieties with the shortest number of chill hours and fed them before they blossomed. However, three years and a fruit harvest that has gone from satisfying to abysmal has put paid to any notions of my fruit tree husbandry.
As I stood in the garden earlier this summer, surveying my fruitless, and I do mean completely fruitless, apricot, peach and nectarine trees wondering what had gone wrong, I suddenly thought about my grandmother Genevieve, her garden and my culinary apprenticeship at her side. As a child, I leant to pick and choose fruit, in her garden or at the market. She would assess them, smell them, and choose only those that were perfect. She would wait patiently for the fruit she grew— whether an apricot, cherry, redcurrant or plum--to be just so, just at their height of sweetness before picking them. Jams and jellies were resplendent representations of fruit at their acme. Her apricot jams the color of an orange sunflower, her red current jelly, a glistening ruby red. Desserts at her house were often a single piece of fruit, but what a piece of fruit it would be. After all the hard work of harvesting them, we ate them reverently, eyes almost closed, savoring their juiciness! She came to my mind when I read this quote by John Keats:
"Talking of pleasure, this moment I was writing with one hand, and with the other holding to my Mouth a Nectarine — how good how fine… all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large, beatified Strawberry."
If plums, peaches and nectarines are the glory bombs of summer, apples and pears are fireworks of autumn. They may not be quite as colorful or juicy, but they are versatile and can be transformative. They are cloaked in the seasonal colors of falling leaves from pale yellow sunset, to burnt orange and sage. These are the fruit that carry us from the first chill of autumnal air to bundled up on those longed-for rainy days. These are the fruit that are the harbingers of festive feasts, the promise of delicate pies, of scented cakes, and luscious puddings, married with cinnamon, cardamom, pecans and nutmeg.
As the air cools, these autumnal fruits come to the fore, keeping us company, wrapped up in cozy blankets of deliciousness. Persimmons made into pudding, pomegranates scattered like glistening jewels over autumnal salads with the golden palette of fall citrus, a caramelized Tarte Tatin, a classic apple pie, a Waldorf salad, a roast with apples and prunes, a cider basted chicken, a Poire Belle Helene, a fine quince tart, a candied apple, oodles of hearty crumbles or a delicate wine poached pear.
Homer referred to pears in the Odyssey as ‘the gift of the gods’, and they have long been revered, seen as a precious, seductive and almost luxurious item. There is something very sensual about pears. Hidden beneath the drab exterior of a Bosc is an aromatic, sweetly spiced flesh that is perfect for baking or poaching, slice open a pink tinged Comice and discover a creamy, sweet juicy fruit that is an ideal complement to cheese. Small, heirloom Forelle pears with their beautifully speckled red blush over greenish yellow skin taste extra sweet with cinnamon spice over tones, and are marvelous poached in wine or saffron syrup, a dish my grandmother made with great aplomb.
I resolved to exercise a little more patience, to channel my inner Genevieve, to see if my mini ‘orchard’ would yield anything edible this year. Finally, to my delight, it was the smallest of the trees, the Fuji apple with its spindly trunk, that has produced an extraordinary number of marvelously sweet, crunchy apples, its little limbs bent over under their weight. I covert them! They are perfect for salads, to be eaten out of hand, or sliced alongside a nutty piece of parmesan or cheddar.
Evidently certain years produce a spartan crop, all the more reason to treasure it. Now the question is do I dare add a pear tree to the mix?
Green Apple, Herb and Green Tomato Salad
I recently found some irresistible gooseberry-like green tomatoes at the farmer’s market. They had almost translucent, iridescent skin that glistened as the sun shone on them. They had a firm texture and nice acidity, which oddly made me think of crunchy green apples. Once back in my kitchen, I made a small salad trying the two together and was delighted that the two fruit worked so well together. Paired with the freshness of the mint leaves and perfume from the lemon basil, the salad was bright and light.
Serves 8 people
For the salad:
4 green crunchy unpeeled apples (Fuji, Envy or Jonagold work well) — very thinly sliced, on a mandolin if possible
½ lb green cherry tomatoes — quartered (or yellow cherry tomatoes)
30 small mint leaves
30 small lemon basil leaves (if you cannot find lemon basil, use regular Italian basil)
¼ cup lightly toasted pine nuts
For the vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lime juice
Coarse sea salt
Whole Roasted Chicken in Clay Pot with Almonds, Dates and Lemons
I received my clay pot as a gift. I’ll be honest and tell you that it sat, collecting dust, for a very long time. I mistakenly thought that it would be a chore to use. Finally, prompted by another article raving about this cooking method, I took the plunge. Ah, what a discovery! Now, close to thirty years later, my very dependable clay pot (yes, the same one) has produced many a succulent meal. Chicken cooked this way melts in your mouth. The combination of the lemons with the sweetness of the dates and the crunch of the almonds is one of my favorites. Don’t wait to use your clay pot!
Serves 6-8 people
6-8 shallots — peeled and quartered
1/3 lb Barhi or Medjool dates — pitted
6 Meyer lemons — quartered
2 cloves garlic — peeled and minced
One 4-5 lb chicken or two 3 lb chickens
Juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon honey
2/3 cup whole almonds
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
NOTE: Do not pre-heat oven. Place the rack in the middle of the oven.
Pan Roasted Pears with Vanilla and Cloves
I love pears. There is a moment when they are perfectly ripe, slightly firm, juicy and sweet. When cooked they take on another dimension as their flavor is enhanced. Certain spices evoke seasons, and the aroma of vanilla, cinnamon and cloves speak of an autumnal day when you smell baking gingerbread cookies or mulled wine. These pears encompass all these delicious traits.
Serves 8 people
2 oz butter
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 vanilla beans — split lengthwise and seeds scraped out (or 2 teaspoons vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract)
1 stick cinnamon
1 pinch allspice
8 pears – peeled, cored and quartered
½ cup crème fraiche
Zest of 1 lemon