As July turns to August, most of us mark the middle of summer vacation. The weather can be hot and humid - not a time to turn on the oven. Summer is a great time to replace carbohydrate based desserts - like sweet cakes, cookies and donuts - with desserts based on fresh summer fruit.
A century ago, fruit - fresh in summer and canned or dried in winter - was the main dessert item on American dinner tables, when dessert was present at all. Today, grain-based desserts laden with sugar are the leading source of calories in the average American diet - and most of these come packaged rather than homemade. These foods are full of trans-fats, sugar, and salt, all things that contribute to Americans' high rates of obesity and other health problems.
Summer is the time for fresh, ripe summer fruit: cherries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches are abundant at farmers' markets right now. All are great summer treats, eaten 'as is', dressed up with a bit of whipped cream, or made into fancy creations. Summer is a great time to experiment with fresh fruit desserts.
Longing for something cool and creamy on a hot summer day? Ice cream is a perennial favorite, and ice cream shops abound. It can be hard to make at home, unless you have an ice cream machine. But it can be done. Blend whipped cream with fruit and sweet syrup, chill in the freezer, and stir every 20 minutes or so until it hardens to ice cream consistency.
Another way to make ice cream without a machine is to use 2 plastic bags - one large and one small. Fill a plastic gallon bag with ice and salt. Combine cream, sugar and flavoring (like vanilla or chocolate) and heat until sugar dissolves; then cool in the refrigerator. Pour into a pint-size plastic bag, seal, and place inside the bag with salt and ice. Make sure both bags are completely sealed. Kids will enjoy shaking the bag for several minutes, until the texture of the cream mixture resembles ice cream.
Fresh summer fruit is a base for many cool summer desserts that are simple, elegant, tasty and don't require turning on the oven. The simplest is fruit with ice cream, whipped cream or yogurt.
Fresh fruit is a burst of flavor all on its own. It is hard to improve on the taste of just-picked berries or a fresh, ripe peach that drips down your chin. Mark Twain described juicy watermelon as the food of angels.
Summer fruits are chuck full of vitamins, minerals, micro-nutrients and fiber. Important nutrients in fruit include potassium, vitamin C, folate (folic acid) and dietary fiber. Fruit has many anti-oxidants such as poly-phenolic flavonoids, vitamin-C, and anthocyanins. These antioxidants help to protect and rejuvenate your body's cells, tissues and organs. Diets rich in fresh fruit mean a smaller risk for chronic diseases, like cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Fruits contain fiber, which is important for proper bowel function, helping reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Fiber-containing foods like fresh fruit help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories. Eating fiber rich fruit reduces risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Because dietary fiber from fruits helps reduce blood cholesterol levels, it may also lower risk of heart disease. While whole fruits are sources of dietary fiber, fruit juices contain little or no fiber.
For a no fuss dessert set up an ice cream buffet. Provide bowls and cones for your guests. Have available several high quality ice creams. Place chopped fruit, cherries, fresh-picked berries, nuts, chocolate chips, crumbled cookies, chopped candy bars, whipped cream, and toppings like hot fudge, butterscotch and caramel in attractive bowls for an elegant look, then let everyone make their own.
Even simple fruit desserts can be delicious and decadent. Create a parfait by layering fruit with yogurt and nuts. Want something fancy? Grilled peaches topped with rich mascarpone cheese. Something simple? One of my favorites is a combination of fresh blueberries and raspberries, topped with a blend of sour cream and maple syrup. I use a fork to combine the cream and syrup, then pour it over the fruit in the bowl.
Freshly whipped cream is a great addition to fresh summer fruit. You can flavor it if you wish - ginger, maple or vanilla are great flavors for fresh fruit. Here are a couple recipes to get you started - but feel free to invent your own. Whatever you make, always use the best, freshest fruit you can find.
Adirondack Maple Cream
1/2 cup heavy cream or whipping cream
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1/4 cup maple cream or maple syrup
Whip heavy cream with electric beater. Add crme fraiche and maple cream and continue beating until thick and velvety. Fold in 2 cups fresh berries (raspberries, blueberries, pitted cherries, etc.) and serve.
2 Tablespoons finely grated ginger (about 2" piece)
1/2 cup heavy cream or whipping cream
1/4 cup crme fraiche or sour cream
2 Tablespoons Turbinado sugar, honey or brown sugar, or more (to taste)
Grate ginger. Place grated ginger in a fine mesh sieve over a small bowl. Press to release juice; discard pulp.
Whip cream with electric mixer. Add crme fraiche, sugar or honey, and ginger juice. Continue beating until smooth and velvety with soft peaks. Serve with fresh fruit like peaches, plums or berries.
1/4 cup heavy cream or whipping cream
1/2 cup crme fraiche or sour cream
1/4 cup strawberry jam (can also vary flavor by using another fruit jam)
Whip cream with electric mixer. Add creme fraiche and fruit jam. Continue beating until smooth and velvety. Serve over fresh berries.
Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers' Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.