The Best Thing About Summer

The best thing about summer is fresh fruit. I know many people who live in cold climes think the best thing about summer is not having to wear 5 layers of clothes or shovel snow every day. When you live in a hot country, those aren't issues and summer can be as oppressive as winter in Vermont.(See my blog posting on that very topic. under "humor"). We have a vast agricultural region in Texas and all my favorite fruits, save one, can be found locally at farmer's markets and roadside stands. Friends and family grow them in their own back yards.

Fresh cherries, however, are my absolute favorite fruit, and they have to be imported from Colorado or Oregon or someplace. Their season is short -June only-and I simply cannot get enough. I know they are tres expensive and many cannot afford them- I am shocked each summer to see how the price goes up. When I was a kid eating them, there were often children around me who had never, in their lives, tasted one. (Of course, I shared!) But compared to many indulgences in life, this is still a relatively inexpensive one, and better for you than booze, cigarettes, fast food, or gambling.

I like the yellowish Rainier cherries best, but will eat the (more commonly found in supermarkets) dark red-purple ones, too. My bff who lives sometimes in Beynes, France, a tiny town just past Versailles on the commuter line, has a giant cherry tree that is just outside his garden wall, which backs up to the town's civic park. Last time I visited, the cherries where in full throttle- covering the tree, dropping on the ground over the garden wall. "Let's pick and eat as many as we can!" I said enthusiastically. "We can't," my friend intoned. "They do not belong to us". I was heart-broken, and secretly ate the windfalls when he wasn't looking.

I am also crazy about berries- mostly raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, although I've been known to delve into the exotic: loganberries, cassis especially. (Love Kir Royales and cassis jelly/jam!). I'll eat a strawberry now and then- mostly in strawberry shortcake or trifle-but from some reason they often make me break out in hives. Strawberry jam makes me gag- I think it's the lumps. Lately I've been making mixed berry pies (easy to do: buy pre-made, rolled up pie crust dough, wash and prep fruit, lay out pie crust, dump in a pyrex pie pan, add 1.25 cups sugar, dash cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, a little brown sugar if you like, 2/3 stick of butter sliced thin, cover w another pie crust- and bake for 1 hour! That's all you do ! Super easy, super delish!) I will eat raspberries in any form, raw or cooked, jelly, trifle, pastry, or drink. Blackberries, too, and often mix them with peaches to make a peach pie.Something in that combo is magical: it cuts the too sweetness of the peach, and the too tartness of the berry. Perfect!

Peaches are grown locally and are also one of my favorite things to eat raw, cooked, pie/pastry, jelly/jam, peach tea, Bellinis, you name it! While you can find berries growing by the side of the road or manage to grow some in your own backyard, peaches generally require an orchard and we have many of them around. They don't really come in to season till July, so I am eagerly anticipating them. As the peach season starts to fade, the nectarine season begins, and they are almost as good.

Many of these fruits are cliches associated with Southern culture, but there is a reason why. Watermelons are enjoyed by white folk and black folk and are so versatile. Mexicans make "agua fresca", a fresh natural fruit drink with them. College kids drill a hole into the melon, fill the watermelon with vodka, let it sit awhile (plug the hole back) and then enjoy the buzz. It's no wonder the flavor of watermelon has permeated candy, margaritas, you name it. Watermelons are cheap, ubiquitous, easy to transport to a picnic or backyard party. Every street corner and farmer's market sells them. My mother always used to say, "never eat a watermelon before the 4th of July. It won't be sweet and ripe." It's true we have watermelon for sale in grocery stores around here year-long, even in the winter. I guess they come from South Texas or South America. But mom was right about the locally grown ones; they just haven't ripened up/sweetened up till the first week of July.

In Texas we call these cantaloupes. I've heard them referred to as muskmelons, and in the south of France they are called cavaillon melons. Nearly a year-round staple for us, they get kind of tasteless in the winter but are wonderfully sweet in the summer. I don't know why more candies/margaritas etc are not made with their flavor; perhaps they aren't as widely eaten as watermelons. Their cousin, the honeydew, tastes bland and boring to me- can't stand them. I see a lot of honeydews in grocery stores up north; not as many cantaloupes. But the cantaloupe is the best; you can eat them raw, or made into a cold gazpacho type soup.

1 comment:

  1. The gendarmerie in Beynes just called. They'd like to ask you a few questions about those windfall cherries. Shall I give them your number?