The Daring Kitchen had the honour of asking Deborah Madison, author of the recently released Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm, and Market, some key questions about her new book, and baking with fruit in general. Here are her answers:
The Daring Kitchen: After having written so many incredible cookbooks, what made you decide to write a cookbook with fruit as the main subject?
Deborah Madison: I started out in desserts, I have worked as pastry chef in the past, I love desserts and I especially love fruit desserts. And I have always included desserts in my books,
so it’s not really so surprising. Also fruits are, to me, like vegetables. They’re seasonal plant foods, and plant foods are my big interest. But fruit is even more delicate than vegetables, more responsive to site, and more harmed by the requirements of industrial agricultural than vegetables are. It’s much easier to find a good potato or parsnip than it is to find a good peach, for example. I know that people don’t need to be encouraged to eat fruit that is well grown and full of the perfume and flavor its meant to have, so I wanted to write a book that would help guide people towards the possibilities of good fruit —and good fruit desserts that are straight-forward, not fussy, and really a pleasure to eat!
The Daring Kitchen: For someone who picks this cookbook up for the first time, what recipe would you recommend they try first and why?
Deborah Madison: I would point them to what’s in season where they live and start there. Strawberries —real strawberries, not those big, hollow tasteless ones—will be coming into season soon all over the country, so so I would point out the strawberries with cream, or strawberries in a red wine syrup. Since rhubarb is usually around at the same time, I’d show them the five or six rhubarb recipes that are there, especially the individual tarts in a corn meal crust. But I’d also point out that while rhubarb is classic and delicious with strawberries, rhubarb is going to be around for a while—in cooler climates clearr through the summer— and that it’s also great with blackberries so I’d point them to my Late Rhubarb and Blackberry Compote.
The Daring Kitchen: How important do you think it is to bake (and cook) with fruit that is local as opposed to fruit that is shipped from far away and often tasteless (i.e., oversized strawberries from the supermarket)?
Deborah Madison: It’s essential! What’s the point of eating fruit that’s tasteless? If you want a stunning, memorable eating experience its crucial to look for fruit that is as local as possible i. Otherwise, what are we doing besides fulfilling the government’s suggestion that we eat so many servings of fruit a day?
This is why the words “From Orchard, Farm, and Market”, as in farmers’s market, are in the title. Look close to home to discover what’s best. Even an apple, which everyone thinks is unchanged by its journey from New Zealand to here, is different when it’s grown close to home. Citrus, however, seems to travel well and maintain pretty good flavor. I’ve had the best citrus this year I can remember having, and none of it is from Northern New Mexico, I can assure you. But, if you have a chance to buy a grapefruit from a farmstand you’ll see that it might even be better than a good one from the store.
The Daring Kitchen: What is your favourite fruit to bake/cook with and why?
Deborah Madison: Actually, there are many fruits that are divine with practically nothing done to them, such as a fine Crane melon, or a bunch of Bronx grapes, a bowl of just-picked berries or ripe figs. The first part of the book suggests ways these fruits might be paired and enjoyed without cooking. That’s the beauty of good fruit —you don’t have to do much with it but eat it. But as for cooking, I really enjoy plums because the heat brings out their flavor so nicely. In the fall I adore cooking with quince, which must be cooked because it’s inedible raw. Throughout the winter I do a lot with dried fruits because that’s a time when fresh fruits are scarce or must be imported from afar. Prunes make the best desserts, there are dried fruit compotes, dried cherries in red wine, Medjool dates paired with a tangy goat cheese and nuts —lots of wonderful desserts made with dried fruits.
The Daring Kitchen: Many people are intimidated of baking to begin with. Are there any words of advice you have or tips for successful baking with fruit?
Deborah Madison: Actually, the working title of this book was “Desserts for the Pastry Impaired” because I know that many people are intimidated by baking, especially pastry making. Others maybe want an alternative to rich pastry crusts, cakes, and such. And still more people probably don’t have time to slow down and focus on pastry per se. It’s usually the pastry part of the dessert thats a challenge, so this book is focused more on fruit itself. Theses are fruit desserts for a cook, which means you can improvise, taste, adjust seasonings as needed, and basically cook as if you were cooking a vegetable. The approach is relaxed, including the shaping of a free-form pie. And the few doughs I have are pretty hard to ruin.
The main advice I have is to put your effort into finding good fruit to start with. A hard plum will tend to remain tart when you saute it with sugar and cardamom; a ripe tart will be sweet with just enough acid from the skins to put things into balance, and it will yield wonderful juice. Smell fruit when you go to buy fruits, especially stone fruit. There should be some perfume present. If there isn’t, it’s probably not going to be very good. When you shop for fruit, remember its name so that if you loved it, you can ask for it again.
Try varieties you might not have had before, especially older varieties which tend to have better acid-sugar balance than the new ones bred for shipping. Buy stone fruits and melons as close to ripe as possible as they will not improve as they sit around. There are lots of tips and information about fruit itself in the book to help one learn about what makes fruit good.
The Daring Kitchen: As a supporter of local farms and fruit markets, are there any particular organizations or groups that you support that people might be interested in?
Deborah Madison: American Farmland Trust is very important for its work in preserving farmland and I’ve been along time supporter of their efforts. Slow Food’s Ark Committee has done very good work
in identifying and drawing attention to endangered fruits that have great merit. I would definitely suggest that one go to slowfoodusa.org/ark and see what some of those fruits (and other foods) are. Seed Savers Exchange offers mostly heirloom vegetable, herb and flower seeds, but also maintains a collection of hundreds of old apple varieties as well as grape varieties.
But there are also many smaller groups that are doing good work in their own communities and I think it’s very important to support them, whether it be your local farmers market, a school that’s trying to establish a school garden and cook real food for its students, or a local farm conversation effort. Money for support is always welcome, but it’s more important to be a shopper at your farmers market or farm stand and actually buy, use and even comment on the local fruits you discover and use. And if you have the space, research what good fruits you might grow in it.
Many thanks to Deborah for her beautiful book and for taking the time to answer our questions. And extra special thanks to Cath of A Blithe Palate for arranging for the Q&A!
Now go buy the book and bake some fruit desserts!