Pies, Crisps, and Cobblers: Making the Most of Your Summer Fruit

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Peach cobbler baking Peach cobbler is a favorite desert to make with peaches, which are in season in late summer. (Copyright: Stephanie Frey/Shutterstock)

Melissa Clark offers tips on what to do with all the fruit that’s in season right now—peaches, plums, apricots, melons, berries and more! She's a New York Times Dining Section columnist and cookbook writer, and her most recent cookbook is Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can't Wait to Make.

Some Tips from Melissa Clark

Plum season is  just beginning! They’re great to bake with. Always taste the fruit before you add the sugar—if the fruit is a little tart, add more sugar; if it’s sweet, use less.

Make a tart with a mixture of different plum varieties. Melt down a little jam, brush it across the top to make it sweet and glossy.

Leave the peach skins on or peel them? It’s a matter of great debate. Clark tends to leave them on, but if the skin is tough, you can peel them—sometimes you can just pull off the skin when the peach is ripe. Plum skins have all the flavor!, so never peel plums!

Peach pies can be runny when the fruit is very juicy. Use tapioca, corn starch, or flour to thicken a runny fruit pie. Toss a couple teaspoons with the fruit before you add it to the crust. If you use corn starch to thicken a pie, remember that you must bring it to a boil to activate the corn starch as a thickening agent.

When you make a fruit pie, bake it long enough so that it’s bubbling over (always put your pie dish on top of a cookie sheet when you bake it, because it will spill over and this way you won’t have to clean your oven). Put foil on the crust if you’re worried about it getting too dark.

To make a pie crust without dairy, you can use coconut oil in place of butter. Put it in the fridge, get it really cold, work quickly so it doesn’t warm up when you’re making the crust.

If you want to mix fruits, all stone fruit will go well together—peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, cherries.

A listener recommends making a cold soup with summer fruit: Use an assortment of whatever fruit is around, especially blueberries, cook it in water, (use about 1/3-2/3 water to fruit), blend it, thicken with corn starch, bring back to a boil, add a little sugar, lemon. Served it chilled with sour cream or plain yogurt or, as Leonard recommends, crème fraiche.

Grill fruit: You can just stick halved big peaches and nectarines. Smaller fruits can go in a grill basket. You can also skewer the fruit, baste with honey butter or olive oil and salt, put on the grill until it’s lightly browned.

Make watermelon gazpacho! Use watermelon in place of tomatoes.

"Don’t be afraid of jam,” Clark said. The worst thing that can happen is that it gets moldy after a while—which you can see—but you can’t get sick from jam like you can when other canned goods go awry.  To make a quick jam, boil the fruit with sugar until it looks thick. She said, “When it looks like jam, it is jam.” Then put it in a hot jar when it’s hot, turn it over, and put it in the fridge. It’ll keep in the refrigerator for many months.

To jazz up a fruit salad, drizzle the fruit with a little balsamic vinegar, a drizzle of honey, maybe add some fresh lemon thyme.

The grater trick: When you’re using tomatoes for sauce or salsa or anything that calls for cooking down the tomatoes, instead of peeling tomatoes halve the tomato across the equator and grate the flesh, holding the skin side. All you’re left with in the end is the skin, which you can discard.



Melissa Clark

Comments [15]

Donald Diamond from BEDFORD

Ms. Clark mentioned that she purchased Mirabelle Plums. Can you state where they are available for purchase. My wife and I Have been looking for year and could only find them in France. Thanks.

Aug. 26 2014 09:46 PM
Andrea Harris from Bronx

Huge fan of Melissa Clark! She made an error telling the person making the pie crust to substitute exactly coconut oil for butter. Butter is composed of cream and water. Coconut oil has much less water in it. As a result, you must reduce the amount of coconut oil to approximated 80%. If the recipe calls for 1 cup butter, use 3/4 cup. Otherwise you will have very oily pie crust.

Aug. 26 2014 02:23 PM

what was the fruit pancake that a caller asked about and Melissa Clarke gave a recipe for . I didnot catch it or the name of it.

Aug. 26 2014 01:18 PM
Whit Waterbury from South Orange, NJ

Peach skins on - no doubt about it.

Aug. 26 2014 01:16 PM

Re Vegan Baked Goods: Peacefood Cafe on E. 11th Street in Manhattan has an incredible raspberry crumb bar. I am not vegan, am a pastry snob, and love it.

Aug. 26 2014 12:37 PM
Linda Ross from Morristown NJ

Add fresh basil ribbons to watermelon, feta and balsamic. Perfect summer lunch.

Aug. 26 2014 12:36 PM
urbangranolagirl from Jersey City

LOVE my OXO Good Grips cherry pitter, aprox $12. It was a great investment, even if I only use it seasonally.

Aug. 26 2014 12:26 PM
John from Fanwood

Hi Melissa, my supermarket had black figs last week and I know they're fall fruit but I bought a tray anyway. I made the almond fig cake that was in the Times last fall. I was delicious. I love figs, but unless you have a tree or a friend has one, they're hard to find. We ate figs the size of apples in Paris last September.

Aug. 26 2014 12:25 PM

My grandmother's prune plum tart, my dad's favorite:

Pate brisé crust, shallow,
lay halved prune plums in circular rings, flat, or angled a bit to fit more in.
pour in cream, eggs, sugar mixed up for the recipe of baked custard, plus a bit of nutmeg. (see a cookbook- Joy of Cooking of any flan recipe minus caramel)
sprinkle plums with sugar if they are tart, use less sugar in custard if they are very sweet.
Bake until the custard is set, about an hour in moderate oven.
Sorry this is not specific as to amounts, but it depends on the size of your tart pan and the sweetness of your prune plums.

Aug. 26 2014 12:23 PM

Cornstarch will set up at 170F, below boiling. But it is not as stable in acidic liquids, like fruits. So it does not set firmly. Tapioca is more stable, sets at a lower temperature, does not over thicken, and is stable when frozen

Arrowroot has not flavor, sets a lower temp, and most importantly, the gel is clear and not milky as it with cornstarch.

Aug. 26 2014 12:18 PM
Howard from Bronx

My wife just ordered heirloom tomatoes and the skin came ff extremely easily without blanching.

Aug. 26 2014 12:16 PM

Medium juicy, please

Aug. 26 2014 12:14 PM

The "dutch baby" (aka giant popover) made with sliced fruit placed at the bottom of the pan, or sauteed in it first, is also a really great way to use fresh fruit.

Aug. 26 2014 12:14 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I mostly don't like plums, but 5 or 6 years ago I started seeing "prune plums" in stores--the kind of plums that prunes are made from. I like them not only better than prunes but better than other kinds of plums.

Aug. 26 2014 12:13 PM

Peach skins in, definitely!

Aug. 26 2014 12:13 PM

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