Articles in Fruit

A crate of Ojai Pixies ready for purchase. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

Beaches and show biz bring coastal Southern California its fame, fortune and visitors. For many they represent the epitome of California living. But head inland and you’ll find that agriculture is the star of the show. Even though farm country isn’t Hollywood, it has a way of making its own magic. Get your hands on an Ojai Pixie and you’ll understand what I mean.

No, I’m not talking about a cartoon fairy with sparkly dust. I’m talking about Pixie tangerines. Approximately 25,000 Pixie trees are rooted in Ojai Valley, about an hour and a half north of Los Angeles; their fruits make up less than 1% of the state’s tangerine crop, yet slowly but surely they’re making a name for themselves in faraway places.

The roots of Pixie pride

A Pixie fresh off the tree. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

A Pixie fresh off the tree. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Sweet, seedless and easy to peel, Pixies typically begin ripening in March and hang around through May or June. Folks here love these tasty fruits so much they host a four-week festival dedicated to celebrating their natural sugar rush: April is Ojai Tangerine Pixie Month, when Pixie pride is at its strongest and tastiest.

A tour around Friend’s Ranch will teach you everything you ever needed to know and then some about Pixies. Five generations of Friends have lived and farmed in Ojai (and the sixth is currently growing up in the orchards, where they spend time playing and tasting).

A grower’s glory

In the groves at Friend's Ranch. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

In the groves at Friend’s Ranch. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

Family members Emily T. Ayala and her brother George Thacher take visitors of all ages into the orchard to taste the very sweet fruit of their labor. Guests are invited to pick off the trees and taste as they learn about the Pixie and what makes it different from other tangerines. Seedless and a snap to peel, Pixies can vary in size and appearance, but in general they are small, 1-3 inches, with easily separated segments. “We won’t pick it if it doesn’t taste good,” says Ayala.

Getting messy is encouraged. Thacher carries a handy backpack with everything you could possibly need for your time among the trees, even baby wipes to tackle the inevitable sticky fingers.

“It’s just a fun place to be,” he says.

Pixie tangerine dreams

A visual feast of Ojai fruits and flowers. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

A visual feast of Ojai fruits and flowers. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

For such a little fruit, it seems to have brought the community of Ojai together in a big way. Take a walk through its small downtown and you’ll see signs everywhere: in clothing stores and boutiques, book stores and restaurants, tabletop displays that include tangerines mixed in with the flowers. 

Every chef at every restaurant has a favorite way of showing off the fruit. Family-run Knead Baking Co. is famous among locals and tourists alike for its citrus syrup cake with fresh Pixie juice. Throughout April, Ojai Valley Brewery’s White Pixie Ale will be poured at Azu California Tapas.

If you want to try your hand at creating a Pixie-inspired dish, you can juice up a weekend getaway with a cooking class at the Lavender Inn, where you’ll prepare such dishes as citrus-marinated whitefish crudo and tangerine chicken. Save room for the Pixie-fennel shortbread served with tangerine-orange curd. Ojai’s Mediterranean climate is ideal for picnics, so after your lesson, you can enjoy your creations at a table in the inn’s sunny garden.

As good for cocktails as cuisine

Sunshine in a glass. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

Sunshine in a glass. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

Craft cocktails at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa take on a citrus theme all season; from whiskey and gin to tequila and vanilla-flavored vodka, it’s amazing what happens when you add a little squeeze of tangerine juice. The Pixology Cocktail Class includes a demonstration and sampling of two cocktails, including margaritas that pack a tasty punch. Pixies have also squeezed their way into the resort’s spa, where Pixie Tangerine Body Scrub and a pampering Body Polish Spa Treatment are available from March through June when the tangerines are harvested.

Drinking in the view

A view of the Ojai Valley. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

A view of the Ojai Valley. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

Work off all those Pixie calories with a power hike; Shelf Road is a quick 15-minute walk from downtown. The 1.5-mile trail is mostly level and easy to walk, run or bike and delivers great views. Expect a friendly dog or two. Citrus trees hang over the trail fences and all fruit in reach is fair game: Peels scattered along the way prove outdoor enthusiasts eat well along the trail — as everywhere else in Ojai.

Note: Dana’s trip was hosted by the Ojai Visitors Bureau, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own.

Main photo: A crate of Ojai Pixies ready for purchase. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann 

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Create a ginger tea with tumeric, cayenne pepper, lemon, cinnamon and honey to keep colds away. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

Winter is making its presence chillingly known, and when the bitter winds and icy storms appear, so do the runny noses and sore throats. I’ve discovered that a key friend in these situations is also one of my favorite ingredients: ginger. The spicy root, while better known for curing nausea, also has secret anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting powers that make it a handy natural defense against winter germs. With its subtle heat, ginger even gives that extra warmth needed to sustain you in the frigid months. Luckily, there are several easy and delicious ways to incorporate ginger into your diet, so you can give both your immune system and your tastebuds that warm fuzzy feeling.

Ginger Immuni-Tea

Create a ginger tea with tumeric, cayenne pepper, lemon and cinnamon to keep colds away. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

A ginger tea will warm up your immune system. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

Try this bright tea to warm up your immune system and clear up your sinuses. Add several pieces of peeled sliced ginger (or a teaspoon of ground ginger) to three cups of water. Bring the water to boil and simmer 5 minutes. Add a teaspoon of turmeric (another anti-inflammatory immune booster), a pinch of cayenne pepper (decongestant), a tablespoon of lemon juice (vitamin C infusion) and a cinnamon stick (anti-inflammatory, bacteria-fighting, and antioxidant-rich). Simmer 5 more minutes, then strain into a mug and add a spoonful of honey (sweetens the spice). You can adjust measurements — just err on the careful side with cayenne and turmeric, which pack a strong punch. Prefer a shortcut? Combine the ingredients in a mug and pour boiled water over them, stirring well. Looking to really heat things up? Add rum or whiskey — it’s a Ginger Hot Toddy! A bit of a cheat on the health front, but will definitely help you stay warm.

Ginger Smoothie

Add ginger to your smoothie for a tasty immunity boost. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

Add ginger to your smoothie for a tasty immunity boost. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

This is a great option for when you’re on the run. Fresh ginger infuses refreshingly tart spice into any smoothie. Options include: mixed berries, milk, honey and banana; pineapple, coconut water, yogurt and cinnamon; mango, orange juice, ice and banana; strawberries, banana, milk and honey; carrot (juice), lemon juice, banana and mint; or kale, apple, lemon juice, blueberries, cinnamon, banana, milk and honey. Go wild with variations. I use frozen berries or banana to thicken, but you can add ice if using fresh fruit. Pick your preferred milk or yogurt — I go with almond and goat, respectively — and same goes for greens (like substituting spinach for kale). Toss it all in the blender with a few peeled slices of fresh ginger for a smooth and tasty immunity boost.

Ginger-Miso Marinade/Dressing

This Asian-inspired paste, made with ginger, is good for salads or sauces. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

This Asian-inspired paste, made with ginger, is good for salads or sauces. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

Here’s a zesty way to incorporate ginger into your lunch or dinner. Combine several peeled slices of ginger in a blender with a few tablespoons of miso, soy sauce, rice vinegar and about 1/4 cup olive or canola oil, a scant teaspoon of sesame oil, a clove of crushed garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and/or orange juice, and salt and pepper to taste (and chopped scallions or fresh cilantro if desired). After a few minutes you have a mouthwatering, immune-empowering, Asian-inspired paste that can be used as a marinade for meat and veggies, a dressing for your favorite salad, or even a sauce for stir-fry.

Ginger-Spiced Granola

Incorporate ginger into granola with berries for a healthy snack. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

Incorporate ginger into granola with berries for a healthy snack. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

Granola is the perfect snack: portable, versatile and filling, with lots of protein and flavor. If you’re a granola addict like myself, it just makes sense to create your own. It’s easy and enables you to add all your favorite elements — including ginger!

Here’s a good starting recipe:

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 50 minutes

Total time: 65 minutes

Yield: 6 cups

Ingredients

4 cups oats (substitute other grains, like oat bran or quinoa)

1/4 cup each of your favorite nuts, roughly chopped (I use almonds, walnuts and pecans)

1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger

1/4 cup each of dried fruit (figs, raisins, cranberries, apples, cherries — or a combination)

1/2 cup coconut oil

1/4 cup molasses (optional)

1/3 cup maple syrup (substitute agave or honey)

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

1. Combine oats, nuts, coconut, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, salt, ginger and dried fruit in a large bowl.

2. On medium-low heat, combine coconut oil, molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a saucepan. Stir until sugar dissolves. Pour sauce over dry ingredients and combine.

3. Lay out granola on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 275 F for 20 minutes; turn the pan; bake 20 to 30 minutes more until golden brown.

Again, feel free to personalize! Don’t like granola too sweet? Scratch the maple syrup and sugar. Wild for luscious clusters? Don’t stir while baking. And if you still need more ginger: Add 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger to the dry ingredients or shave fresh ginger into the saucepan mixture.

Main photo: Create a ginger tea with tumeric, cayenne pepper, lemon, cinnamon and honey to keep colds away. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

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Chocolate and raspberries blend deliciously in these cookies. Credit: Copyright 2016 The Weiser Kitchen

Having been married for more than two decades, I realize many factors contribute to the longevity of my marriage. Perhaps the most important is how my husband and I blend.

People often ask how we’ve done it, as if there is a secret. But there really is no secret. Just like the pairing of raspberry and chocolate, my husband and I are together despite our differences. We know how to compromise and work together, which we actually do most of the time.

Love is not “never having to say you’re sorry.” Chocolate is temperamental, so if you add the wrong amount of moisture from, say, fresh raspberries, you will have something to apologize about. But you get another chance. As in longtime relationships, you learn and grow.

Better together than apart

I love offering up treats that focus the partnership of raspberries and dark chocolate because of the magical synergy that makes them better together than individually.

In the past, dark chocolate was relegated to the lowest shelves in grocery stores. Over the last two decades, though, it has become very au courant. I would like to say that the only reason I give myself permission to eat dark chocolate is because of possible health benefits. But in truth, I like the taste. I find its bitterness to be complex and appealing.

What makes dark chocolate dark?

Dark is only defined relative to all other chocolates. It’s darker in comparison with milk or sweet chocolate candy bars. It has a higher percentage of cocoa, less milk fat and less sugar. The higher the cocoa percentage, the deeper and more intense the chocolate flavor. My favorite for baking and cooking is around 72%.

When choosing your dark chocolate, like choosing a mate, there are two more issues to consider: Where it was born and where (and how) it was processed. Dark chocolate is often labeled with the place of origin, the cocoa percentages and where it was processed. Climate and soil give chocolate its inherent nature, and that’s part of its heritage. The style of preparation is also key. To many, Switzerland’s chocolate production is the gold standard. In my book, it’s equaled or even bettered by Belgian chocolate.

Equal partners

In these cookies, chocolate and raspberries are equal partners. Credit: Copyright 2016 TheWeiserKitchen

In these cookies, chocolate and raspberries are equal partners. Credit: Copyright 2016 The Weiser Kitchen

Lest you think that chocolate is the alpha dog of this relationship, raspberries are an equal partner. They are more than just juicy and lovely to behold. They are rich in cancer-fighting compounds and vitamin C, and full of fiber. They taste sweet — with a uniquely tart undertone and a deep complexity. Just like chocolate. Raspberries aren’t mild-manned, singular sweetness, like the ever-affable strawberry or cherry. They are an assertive flavor in their own right.

Like any paramour partnership, each ingredient brings something unique and yet retains its distinctive character even as it blends with the other ingredients. Raspberries are juicy, but chocolate is silky. Both have a little sexy undertone that makes them interesting. Together they make a wondrous bite.

May they live happily ever after.

Chocolate and Raspberry Swirl Cookies

These charming swirl cookies, tucked, wrapped and snuggled like the spiral of a snail or a conch shell, are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The dough is oh-so-gently sweet, and the filling bursts with both the tartness of raspberry and a cacophony of rich chocolates. Like a good relationship, they contrast but support each other and together they create an enticing synergy. These cookies have one more touch of meaning: I developed them for my fantasy meal for Rashida Jones, an actress and writer I admire greatly. She is the co-author, co-producer and star of one of my favorite sad but sweetly tender and real films — “Celeste and Jesse Forever.” I wanted to make a cookie that hinted at the Jewish facet of her identity, so these cookies are a bit rugelach-ish. These are simply a joy to eat and fun to make.

Yield: About 28 to 30 cookies

Prep and baking time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Ingredients

1/2 cup (116 grams/4 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature

1 1/2 sticks (¾ cup/170 grams/6 ounces/12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup (54 grams) dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon (1.5 grams) salt

1 egg

1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (see Notes)

1 3/4 cups (228 grams) unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

2/3 cup seedless raspberry jam

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped

3 ounces milk chocolate, very finely chopped

1 large egg yolk

2 teaspoons water

1/4 cup brown turbinado sugar

1/2 teaspoon any large-crystal salt

Directions

1. Prepare the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or if you are using a hand-held mixer, in a large mixing bowl), combine the cream cheese and butter and mix until completely blended. Add the brown sugar and salt, and mix for 3 to 4 minutes, until light and fluffy.

2. Add the egg and mix well. Add the vanilla bean paste and mix well. Add the flour and mix just until fully combined. Prepare a large piece of plastic wrap and scrape the mixture onto it, wrap, shape into a rough square or rectangle and seal well. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until fully chilled.

3. Wet a work surface with a few drops of water or a swipe of a wet paper towel. Quickly place a large piece (11 x 14 inches or larger) of parchment paper on top. It should stick. Dust the parchment paper very lightly with flour. Roll a rolling pin in the flour to coat it lightly. Place half of the dough on the floured parchment and roll it into a 6-by-9-inch rectangle that is 1/8 to 1/16 inch thick.

4. Using a pastry brush, coat the rectangle with raspberry jam, leaving a 1/2-inch border bare around the edges. Sprinkle the chocolates over the raspberry jam, distributing the pieces evenly. Position the parchment and dough so that the short side of the parchment is in front of you. Using the parchment, lift the short side of the dough up and over the filling, covering it by about 1/2 inch. Continue rolling to make a cylinder, rolling as tightly as you can. Place the roll on a large piece of plastic wrap and wrap well. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until fully chilled.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats and set aside.

6. Remove the rolled dough from the plastic wrap and, with a very sharp, long knife, cut it crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide slices. Place the cookies onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between the cookies.

7. Prepare an egg wash by beating the egg yolk and water gently in a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, liberally brush the egg wash over the cookies, making sure to cover both the dough and filling. Sprinkle with the sugar and salt and bake (both sheets at once) for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely on the baking sheets before removing them, as the raspberry jelly will be very hot. They will crisp as they cool off.

Notes:

1. Vanilla bean paste is a form of vanilla flavoring that is made from vanilla extract and vanilla bean powder (sometimes it’s what’s left over from producing the extract and sometimes fresh vanilla bean seeds), mixed with a binder such as sugar syrup, corn syrup or, in commercial preparations, xanthan gum. It has the consistency of a paste and an intense, distinctly vanilla flavor. It’s available in well-stocked markets and online, but if you can’t find it, use pure vanilla extract.

2. Turbinado sugar is a minimally processed, minimally refined sweetener made from cane sugar. Brown in color, it is often confused with brown sugar. Turbinado sugar, however, has a higher moisture content, which will make a difference in baking, so it’s best to use the sugar that is called for in the recipe unless you are skilled enough to reduce another liquid in the ingredient list. With its large crystals, it’s great for sugar toppings on cookies and other baked goods. Like demerara sugar, it is made by drying the juice of the sugar cane and then spinning it in a centrifuge to purify it. Store in a cool, dry place.

Main photo: These Chocolate and Raspberry Swirl cookies are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

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Green and yellow plantains at Carniceria Mimi in Canas, Costa Rica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

I was intimidated by plantains. Having eaten them in Latin American restaurants, I knew they were good when served with roast chicken, rice and beans. But seeing them in the market, I had no idea how to cook them. A trip to Costa Rica changed all that when a chef demonstrated how plantains are easy to prepare and delicious.

Like bananas, their sweet cousins, plantains are naturally fibrous and a good source of potassium.

Although they look like large bananas, they are not edible unless cooked. Primarily starchy, especially when green, plantains also have a stiff, bark-like peel. Delightfully easy to cook, plantains are used to create delicious side dishes.

Available all year round and grown primarily in the southern hemisphere, plantains are cooked in a great many ways — steamed, deep fried, sautéed, boiled, baked and grilled. The same fruit is prepared differently when it is green than when it is yellow or black. The first time I visited a Mexican market in Los Angeles, I noticed bunches of very large bananas with mottled yellow and black skin. I thought the blackened fruit was spoiled. In point of fact, when the peel turns yellow and then black, the starches in the fruit have begun to convert to sugars.

Plantains, yellow or black, will never be as sweet as a banana, but when cooked in this ripened state, they produce a deliciously caramelized side dish or dessert.

In his kitchen at Villa Buena Onda, an upscale boutique hotel on the Pacific Coast in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Provence, Chef Gabriel Navarette demonstrated in a cooking video how easy it is to prepare plantains. In fact, they are so easy to cook, now that I am home, I make them all the time.

Chef Gabriel Navarette with a plate of patacones. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chef Gabriel Navarette with a plate of patacones. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The only difficulty with cooking plantains is finding a market that sells them. Not available in supermarkets in many U.S. cities, markets serving the Spanish-speaking community will have plantains. Seek them out because besides selling plantains, the markets will also be a good source of mangoes, papayas, tomatillos, chayote, fresh chilies, Latin spices and a good selection of dried beans and rice.

Navarette demonstrated how to prepare plantains three ways. He stuffed green plantains with cheese and baked them in the oven. He flattened green plantains and fried them twice to make patacones, thick, crispy chips served with pico de gallo, black beans, guacamole or ceviche. And, he caramelized yellow plantains to serve alongside black beans and rice on the wonderful Costa Rican dish called casado, which always has a protein such as chicken, fish, pork or beef.

Villa Buena Onda, or VBO as it is known locally, is an intimate destination. With only eight rooms, the hotel fells like a private home with a personal chef. The price of the room includes all three meals. Navarette and his fellow chefs make each dish to order.

Navarette studied at Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje, a prominent school training professionals in many fields. He worked in resort and hotel kitchens, moving up the ranks from server to line cook, then as a sous chef and finally as the head chef at VBO for the past eight years.

Cooked yellow plantains. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cooked yellow plantains. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

What attracted me to his food, as well as that of his cousin Diego Chavarria on the weekend and Rosa Balmaceda in the morning, was that each dish tasted home cooked but was plated in the most beautiful, five-star way.

Aided by César Allonso Carballo to translate, Navarette was happy to show me how to cook plantains. I was amazed at how easy they are to cook.

Cooking yellow plantains to use as a side dish or dessert is the essence of simplicity. Simply peel each plantain, heat a half-inch of safflower or corn oil in a carbon steel or cast iron pan over a medium flame, cut the plantain into rounds or in half lengthwise and then cut into 5-inch long sections, fry on either side until lightly browned, drain on paper towels and serve. All that can be done in five to eight minutes and the result is delicious.

The crisp and savory patacones are slightly more complicated to prepare but not much more so.

Patacones from the kitchen of Villa Buena Onda

Yellow or black plantains should not be used to make patacones because they are too soft.

In the restaurant, Navarette uses a deep fryer to cook plantains. That is fast and easy so he can keep up with the orders, but I discovered at home that by using a carbon steel pan I was able to achieve the same result using less oil with an easier clean up.

The oil may be reused by straining out cooked bits and storing in a refrigerated, air-tight container.

Enjoy the patacones with an ice-cold beer and, as the Costa Ricans say, Pura vida! Life is good because everything is OK.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

2 green plantains, washed

1 cup corn or safflower oil

Sea salt and black pepper to taste (optional)

Directions

1. Cut the ends off each green plantain. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut along the length of the tough peel being careful not to cut the flesh of the plantain. Pry off the peel and discard.

2. Preheat oil in a deep fryer to 350 F or a half-inch of oil in a large sauté pan over a medium flame.

3. Cut each plantain into 5 or 6 equal sized rounds.

4. Place the rounds into the deep fryer for 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. In the sauté pan, turn frequently for even cooking, which should take about 5 to 8 minutes.

5. Remove, drain on paper towels and allow to cool.

6. Prepare one round at a time. Put the round on a prep surface. Place a sturdy plate on top of the round. Press firmly in the middle of the plate until the plantain round flattens, then do all the other rounds.

7. Place the flattened plantains back into the deep fryer for 2 minutes, or 4 minutes in the oil in a sauté pan as before. Turn as necessary in order to cook until lightly browned on all sides.

8. Remove from the oil, place on paper towels to drain and cool.

9. Season with sea salt and black pepper (optional).

10. Serve at room temperature with sides of black beans, pico de gallo, sour cream or ceviche or all four so guests can mix and match.

Main photo: Green and yellow plantains at Carniceria Mimi in Canas, Costa Rica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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The Rev. Nat West, right, an ordained minister, preaches the Gospel of good cider --

Three cheers for the nationwide revival of the all-but-lost American hard cider tradition! This renaissance is an outgrowth of spreading interest in locally sourced products and farm-to-table cuisine. Where there were perhaps a dozen artisanal hard cider makers in 2000, today there are 400, with new farm-to-bottle cideries opening every day.

These fermented apple and pear juice beverages are not all the same. In the Spanish tradition, the ciders have a slight vinegary flavor and lots of funky mushroomy, savory notes on the finish. English hard ciders are austere drinks that highlight the tannins from the apple skins with refreshing acidity. French-style hard ciders tend to be softer and a touch sweeter. Most hard ciders have a light spritz.

Tom Wark, a longtime wine industry publicist, launched “The Cider Journal” last year to track artisanal cideries and give vent to his passion for the movement. “These are complex, interesting drinks that are worlds away from the sweet, artificial tasting stuff I used to think was hard cider,” he says. “There is a growing band of dedicated craft cider producers across the country. Some have been at it for years, others not so long. But all of them are artisans.”

From the vast apple orchards of the Northwest to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, here is Zester’s look at some of our favorites.


Main photo: The Rev. Nat West, right, an ordained minister, preaches the gospel of good cider and is renowned for exploring the boundaries of cider making, starting from his basement and now flowing from 12 taps at his northeast Portland, Oregon, taproom. Credit: Copyright 2015 Zester Media

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Layers of berries and whipped cream make a refreshing summer dessert. Credit: Thinkstock

I’ve reached that point of summer where the mere thought of flipping on the oven and heating up the kitchen to bake cookies, pies or cakes makes me sweat.

Rather than risk turning into a puddle over the next picnic or potluck party dish, I’ve shifted into low gear and started whisking, rather than cooking, my summertime treats.

Syllabub

Syllabub. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Syllabub. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Topping my roster of simple desserts that can be effortlessly whipped together is syllabub. The name syllabub may conjure up visions of windswept sand dunes, dusty camels and “Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights.” As exotic as it sounds, this sweet comes not from the sun-drenched desert but instead from Britain.

Whip syllabub until soft, velvety peaks form. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Whip syllabub until soft, velvety peaks form. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

In 16th-century England, syllabub was a frothy beverage made of milk and sweet wine or cider. Because people liked the foamy head more than the liquid itself, syllabub eventually discarded its drink status and took on the role of a creamy dessert.

What makes syllabub an ideal summer treat is its simplicity. You can assemble it in a few minutes with either a whisk or an electric hand mixer. Just beat 1 cup of chilled whipping cream, a quarter cup of sauternes, muscatel or other sweet wine and the same amount of sugar together until soft velvety peaks form. Once you see those gentle mounds, you’ve got your syllabub.

To vary the taste, you can replace the wine with flavored rums or liqueurs or fruit juice. To keep its romantic desert image intact, present your syllabub in colorful North African tea glasses.

Fool

Blackberry fool. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Blackberry fool. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Another easy English favorite is the fool. As simple as its name sounds, the fool consists of mashed raw or cooked fruit folded into homemade whipped cream.

In the United Kingdom, fools usually contain gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb or plums. I find the bold look and piquant flavor of blackberries work extremely well here. When spooned into dainty etched glasses, fools become an elegant last course, one that leaves guests talking for days about your ethereal creation.

Fruit and cream

Blueberries and cream. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Blueberries and cream. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

If you choose not to swirl mashed fruit through your whipped cream, then you’ll have the next offering, fruit and cream. Yet another straightforward treat, fruit and cream consists of alternating bands of fresh or cooked fruit and lightly flavored whipped cream. Berries, particularly blueberries or elderberries, taste fabulous in this recipe.

When making the whipped cream for this and for fools, you should beat the cream until stiff, glossy peaks form. The whipped cream in these two confections should possess a firmer consistency than that of a syllabub. Because the bands of white and purple — or red or blue or whatever color fruit you choose to use — look so beautiful together, I also serve this repast in a clear tea or juice glass.

Coconut cream

Coconut cream topped with kiwi. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Coconut cream topped with kiwi. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Reminiscent of the syllabub, coconut creams feature yogurt, shredded coconut and cream of coconut. Don’t confuse cream of coconut with its thinner, less flavorful relation, coconut milk. You will find both in the international aisle of most grocery stores and in Latin American, Asian and Caribbean markets.

To make coconut creams, whisk together 2 cups plain Greek yogurt, 3 tablespoons sweetened, shredded coconut, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cream of coconut and an equal amount of sifted confectioner’s sugar. Divide the coconut creams among four small bowls or glasses and refrigerate for 30 minutes. When you’re ready to serve the coconut creams, top each with a sprinkling of fresh diced kiwis, chopped pistachios or almonds, or grated bittersweet chocolate.

Gelée

Gelée. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Gelée. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Searching for an uncomplicated, dairy-free dessert? Look no further than the gelée. A gelatin-based treat, gelée frequently features champagne, Madeira or other sparkling or fortified wines.

To some, this may sound suspiciously similar to a Jell-O shot. How often, though, do you see that frat house staple served in a filigreed glass or garnished with a spice-infused sauce? Further distancing gelée from college fare is the inclusion of whole or pureed fruit.

Of these effortless goodies, gelée will require the most time. Even so, the moment that you shut the refrigerator door, your work ends. To make a gelée, whisk together 2 .25-ounce packets gelatin, 1/3 cup water, 1 cup wine, 1 to 1 1/4 pounds fresh fruit and 1/3 cup sugar. Pour the concoction into small bowls or glasses and refrigerate it for a minimum of three hours before serving.

During the final sultry days of summer, spare yourself the kitchen heat and whip together some of these quick, cool sweets.

Blackberry Fool

Prep time: 25 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups blackberries

1/2 cup sugar, divided

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

1. Place the blackberries, 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice in a bowl and stir to combine. Allow the berries to macerate for 15 minutes, stirring periodically, until they release some of their juices.

2. Put half the berries in the bowl of a blender or food processor and purée. Pour the purée over the whole berries and stir the mixture together.

3. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla extract and continue beating until stiff peaks take shape.

4. At this point, fold in the berries. Because I prefer a dryer fool, I strain off and reserve most of the juice and just add the berries and strained purée to the whipped cream. I later drizzle the juice over the individual servings of fool.

5. If you’re serving this right away, spoon equal amounts of fool into 4 bowls. Otherwise, cover and refrigerate the fool until ready to serve. Note that when refrigerated, the fool will keep its shape for 2 to 3 hours. Make and serve accordingly.

Main photo: Layers of berries and whipped cream make a refreshing summer dessert. Credit: Thinkstock

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Stir-frying is among the ways the Chinese prepare peaches that differ from cooks and bakers in the U.S. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Kelley

One of China’s many gifts to world cuisine is the peach, and with the season in full swing, now is the time to celebrate this most ancient and beloved of fruits. Peaches have been an important aspect of traditional culture in China, and were first described in the agricultural manual, “Xiaxiaozheng,” written almost 4,000 years ago.

The Daoists considered them important symbols of immortality, and other works celebrate their association with youth. For example, in the “Shijing (Book of Odes),” a compilation of poetry and song from about 3,000 to 2,500 years ago, the peach tree is compared to a young bride with brilliant flowers, abundant fruit and luxuriant leaves:

The peach tree is young and elegant;
Brilliant are its flowers.
This young lady is going to her future home,
And will order well her chamber and house.

Culinary uses

Pickled peaches are traditional in China. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sasimoto/iStock

Pickled peaches are traditional in China. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sasimoto/iStock

The culinary uses of peaches in China are generally more varied than they are in the west. We tend to limit our use of peaches to sweeter dishes, such as pies, cakes, cobblers and fruit salads. Additionally, we use them to add a sweet flavor to oatmeal and other cereals, generally served at breakfast.

In China, peaches are featured in both sweet and savory dishes. From the familiar peach-based duck sauce, and savory and spicy sauces for meats, to pickled peaches and even half-sour peach kebabs, peaches are everywhere. Peaches in China also tend to be eaten when we would consider them to be a bit under-ripe and hard. So, even in sweeter dishes, they often have a slightly sour tang to them when compared to sweet peach dishes in the west.

Peach origins

Peaches ripening on a tree. Credit:Schwäbin (Wikimedia) / Lizenz: Creative Commons CC-by-sa-3.0 de

Peaches ripening on a tree. Credit: Schwäbin (Wikimedia) / Lizenz

Recent archaeological analysis of peach stones (pits) has concluded that peaches were first domesticated in China’s lower Yangzi Valley beginning almost 8,000 years ago. In the area just a little south and west of Shanghai, feral ancestors of today’s peach (Prunus persica) were consciously selected for fruit size and taste, time from germination to fruiting and length of fruiting season.

The domestication process was complete in China by about 6,700 years ago, and the peach was introduced to areas of coastal Japan by about 6400 years BP (before the present). The larger, sweeter cultivars spread quickly and were commonly eaten across China by about 4000 BP. Domesticated peaches were first seen in India by about 3700 BP — a tribute to the power of early Silk Road trade.

This new analysis from a team of international scientists is significant and challenges conventional wisdom that the peach was domesticated in northwestern China. It also questions accepted ideas about how early in the history of agriculture that fruit trees became important crops. The earliest changes from feral fruit type appears almost 1,000 years before the beginnings of rice farming in the Yangzi Valley when rhinoceros and elephants were still common wildlife in the area.

Peach varieties

Fieldcrest peaches are one of 2,000 peach varieties. Credit: Copyright Patrick Tregenza/USDA

Fieldcrest peaches are one of 2,000 peach varieties. Credit: Copyright Patrick Tregenza/USDA

Globally there are more than 2,000 varieties of peaches that can be harvested from late spring through the end of October. Of these, 300 are commonly grown in the United States. Peaches are classified in three groups: freestone, clingstone and semi-freestone. The classifications refer to the way the fruit’s flesh clings to the pit.

Clingstone varietals ripen between May and August, and have yellow flesh that turns mild red to bright red close the pit. Clingstones also have a soft texture, and a high sugar and juice content, making them good for eating raw. Freestones, on the other hand, have firm texture, relatively low level of juiciness and mild sugar content, making them ideal for baking. Freestone varietals bear fruit between late May and October. The semi-freestones combine two of the most prized qualities of clingstones and freestones — a relatively high sugar content and juiciness along with flesh that doesn’t cling to the pit.

Varying by geography

Flat peaches, such as the Saturn, took more than a century to catch on in the United States. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons

Flat peaches, such as the Saturn, took more than a century to catch on in the United States. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons

Peach varieties tend to vary a great deal by geographical area. In the Central Atlantic, most farms are now featuring Glenglo and Early Red Free peaches with Red Havens ripening in the next week or two. August promises the greatest variety of peaches in this area with peaches available for almost any use.

The global produce market makes many varietals available at supermarkets regardless of the local fruiting season. The most interesting additions to these markets has been the flat Saturn and Jupiter peaches, also called doughnut peaches. These are freestone varieties with low acidity and high sugar content, best eaten raw. Interestingly, flat peaches (Peento variety) were introduced to the U.S. from China in 1869, but the idea of a flat peach didn’t catch on with consumers until the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Chinese stir-fried peaches

This is an authentic, savory way to enjoy the fruits of the summer. For a real Chinese touch, use an under-ripe peach, or one with a low-sugar, high-acid content for a sweet and sour treat.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 6 to 10 minutes
Total time: 16 to 26 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

 Ingredients

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

3 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

2 to 3 teaspoons lightly roasted sesame seeds

2 tablespoons sugar (Demerara or palm sugar is best)

6 peaches

2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 to 3 tablespoons grated ginger

1 to 2 tablespoons minced garlic (or Chinese chives)

Directions

1. In a small bowl or cup, combine the soy sauce, hoisin, rice wine, rice vinegar and sesame seeds. Add sugar. Mix well and set aside.

2. Thickly slice peaches and remove the stones. You may skin the peaches if you wish, but it is not mandatory.

3. Heat the sesame oil in a wok until it just starts to smoke, and add the ginger and garlic and stir for 1 to 2 minutes until partially cooked. Add the peaches and stir until well coated. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring several times, until the peaches start to soften. It may be necessary to cook longer if the peaches are very firm.

4. When the peaches are partially cooked, add the soy sauce mixture and stir well to coat. Cover and cook until peaches are of a desired tenderness, about 2 to 3 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

Main photo: Chinese stir-fried peaches. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Kelley

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A flower ice bowl filled with summer fruit and elderflower blossoms. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

If you’ve been almost anywhere in Europe this summer, you’ve probably had moments of cowering inside, shutters closed, windows open, fans on. (We don’t do air conditioning hereabouts, at least not in our homes.)

In France, train tracks have buckled and tarmac has melted in temperatures that have topped 107 F. In England, during Wimbledon, local tennis hero Andy Murray battled it out on Centre Court with Mikhail Kukushkin in 105-degree temperatures as ball boys dropped like ninepins in the heat. Bonn, Germany, was one recent day hotter than Cairo, Istanbul, Phoenix and Miami.

With this kind of weather, the idea of hot food is a serious turnoff.  Cool is where it’s at. And you can’t get much cooler than the following flowery ice bowl. It takes a little time and attention to make, as it must be frozen in several stages. However, the result is startlingly gorgeous, especially when filled with fresh summer fruit or sundry scoops of ice cream or sorbet.

Selecting your bowls

To make an ice bowl, you will need two bowls, one slightly larger than the other. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

To make an ice bowl, you will need two bowls, one slightly larger than the other. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

First, select your bowls. You’ll need two: one bigger than the other, so the smaller one will sit inside the larger. The ones I’ve used here are about 8 inches and 10 inches in diameter (20 centimeters and 25 centimeters).

If you have two metal bowls, things will go even faster, but this combo of a ceramic mixing bowl with a smaller metal one works just fine. The point is their difference in size: You’ll be filling the space between the two with water and flowers, and the space must be sufficient to make thick ice walls for your ice bowl.

Also, make sure you have space in the freezer for your two bowls sitting one inside the other. (A cue to use up all that produce frozen last summer?)

Choosing your flowers

Good flower selections for an ice bowl include, clockwise from top left, St. John's wort, lavender, Alchemilla mollis, pelargoniums, perennial geraniums and rose petals. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Good flower selections for an ice bowl include, clockwise from top left, St. John’s wort, lavender, Alchemilla mollis, pelargonium, perennial geraniums and rose petals. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Next go out and pick (or buy) some flowers — from your garden or terrace if you have one, or even wild ones, which give a graceful, homey touch.

The flowers should not be too big (a maximum of 1 inch across), and you’ll want to use a good mix of colors. Geraniums work beautifully, either the predominantly red and purple Pelargonium/window-box varieties or the blue or pink perennial ones. Lavender is great, as is the deep egg-yolk yellow St. John’s wort, aka Hypericum. A few rose petals won’t go amiss, and if you have some lacy, lime-green flowers of Alchemilla mollis, throw in a few of those too. Basically any small colorful flower or petal will do.

Starting your ice bowl

To start your ice bowl, place a few flowers in the bottom of the bowl, add a little water and freeze. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

To start your ice bowl, place a few flowers in the bottom of the bowl, add a little water and freeze. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Pour about 1 1/2 inches (3 centimeters to 4 centimeters) of water in the bottom of the larger bowl and place a few flowers in the water. They will float around a bit, so don’t fret too much about placing them neatly and symmetrically; they will sort themselves out. In any case, this layer will be the base, so the flowers will be barely visible once you’ve filled your ice bowl. Put the bowl into the freezer and leave until solidly frozen.

Creating the bowl shape

When the base is frozen, place the smaller bowl on top and place a weight inside it to keep it from floating. Then freeze again. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

When the base is frozen, place the smaller bowl on top and place a weight inside it to keep it from floating. Then freeze again. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Once the base is frozen, remove the bowl from the freezer and place the smaller bowl on top. It should sit with its rim slightly above the outer bowl, because it’s sitting on the frozen base. Make sure the smaller bowl is centered, and place a can of something heavy in it so it doesn’t float when you add more water.

Add about 1 1/2 inches of water and drop some flowers between the two bowls, poking them down a bit into the water. Freeze again. Repeat this procedure once or twice more until the water is up to the rim of the outer bowl.

The point of doing this bit by bit is to allow each layer of water and flowers to freeze firmly each time; if you poured it all in at once, all the flowers would bob up to the top, which would spoil the effect.

Once you’ve completed the process, keep the ice bowl in the freezer until needed.

Removing the ice bowl

When the space between the two bowls is filled, the flower ice bowl is ready. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

When the space between the two bowls is filled, the flower ice bowl is ready. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Finally comes the tricky part — you need to get your creation out from between the two bowls. The first step is to remove the small bowl (after you’ve removed that can of something heavy). Pour some hot water (tap-hot is enough) into the smaller bowl and leave for a few moments, just long enough so you can lift it out. Now fill a sink with hot water and lower the big bowl into it. Keep testing until the ice bowl has melted enough that it’s freed itself from the sides of the bowl.

Serving ideas

The finished flower ice bowl, ready to be filled with summer fruits or ice cream. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

The finished flower ice bowl, ready to be filled with summer fruits or ice cream. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Once the ice bowl has been freed, lift it out and place on a napkin-lined tray or plate (so it doesn’t slide and/or leak).

Now you can fill it with whatever suits your fancy: a mixture of soft summer fruits or a colorful selection of ice cream and/or sorbet, for example.

Main photo: A flower ice bowl filled with summer fruit and elderflower blossoms. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

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