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SummerTime “when the pickings are easy”

Times Staff Writer

Say “summer fruit” and the salivary juices start bubbling with glee. Peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines, cherries, melons, strawberries, oranges and summer pears. They do have a special ring, don’t they? According to Jim Piedlow, assistant officer in charge of fruit and vegetable market news for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Los Angeles, such fruits will be abundant this year and as beautiful as ever, with good quality for the most part--a far cry from the slim pickings in Grandmother’s day. That’s because of the great strides made by growers, shippers and distributors in bringing improved varieties and more efficient methods ofproduction to the marketplace. What about taste? It is said that most producers strive for a 50/50 ratio between taste and looks. Just about all summer fruits are ready for picking from the counter shelves. Peaches, plums and nectarines are available from mid-May into October. Golden Bartletts, the true summertime pears, are harvested from mid-July and marketed through November.

Although markets today provide good supplies of these fruits the year-round, you’ll notice higher quality and more reasonable prices when you buy fruits in season.

It’s the perfect time, in fact, to get into the habit of including fruit in the diet, not only because it’s so abundant, but because fruit provides high doses of nutrients for few calories. Fruit, like vegetables and grains, is among the foods categorized as carbohydrates--with fewer calories, fats and cholesterol than other categories, such as protein.

Carbohydrates should make up the major portion of the adult diet. Some experts recommend a ratio of 60% carbohydrates to 30% fat (most of it contained naturally in foods you eat, not added on) and 10% protein in the form of meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts or legumes.

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The average fruit serving (about five ounces) contains about 65 calories but provides excellent amounts of vitamins A and C, potassium and other trace minerals hard to find in foods. Fruit, like vegetables, is also an excellent natural source of fiber, which health authorities urge Americans to increase in their diets for prevention of cancer. Another healthful plus is that fresh fruit is also very low in sodium and fat.

But nothing will draw a consumer to fruits more than their natural beauty and taste. Good taste and the aesthetic impact of enjoying a beautiful fruit out of hand, or finding a bowl of summer fruit on a table or fruit presented with flair for a delicious dessert, are probably among the primary reasons for choosing fruit.

We give several recipes for using fruits in imaginative ways for summer dining, inspired by various experiences. (See the related story on Page 13 on selecting and handling fruit, including instructions for freezing fresh fruit.)

In one recipe, the fruit was arranged on a bed of gelled fruit juice in an attractive pattern. The idea was brought to our attention by Patrick Healy of Colette at the Beverly Pavilion Hotel.

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Another idea originated when there was no dessert to serve some impromptu guests. We used whole oranges with candied peel and served them in a brandied raspberry sauce. Any fruit can be used, however. The sauce can be continuously replenished, as you would any brandied fruit, for a steady supply of dessert anytime.

We also were intrigued with a summery idea of using year-round bananas as prepared by pastry chef Rad Ish at American Sampler restaurant in Los Angeles. Bananas are barbecued on a grill and served on an open banana skin topped with brown sugar and whipped cream.

Fruit mousses or whips are a wonderful way to serve summer fruit, and we give a Peach Mousse recipe here.

Fruit soups also play a wonderful summertime role in dining today, and we give a curried cold soup using nectarines.

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For a simple yet glamorous entertaining idea, try dipping summer fruit into chocolate. The tray can be piled with a rainbow of colorful fruits, such as peaches, plums, summer pears or apricots, or stick to a single fruit such as grapes, as in our recipe.

Watermelon, our stereotypic summer fruit, is treated with vodka and triple sec to marinate overnight, then served cut in wedges or slices for a refreshingly spirited dessert.

Is there anything more inviting than a peach cobbler after a hearty patio-style meal?

Here are some fruit recipes.

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ORANGE-RASPBERRY COMPOTE

10 to 12 very small eating oranges

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup sugar

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1/4 cup grenadine

1/4 cup orange liqueur

1 (10-ounce) package frozen raspberries

Peel oranges, leaving them whole and reserving 3 of peels. Cut membrane from peels and slice peels into sliver-thin strips. Place peels in saucepan with water. Add sugar and cook until syrupy. Remove peels and set aside. Reserve syrup.

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Add grenadine, orange liqueur and raspberries to syrup. Mix well. Place oranges in plastic container. Add raspberry mixture and turn to coat well. Add orange peels. Cover and let stand in refrigerator at least 24 hours to blend flavors. To serve, place 1 orange in footed compote dish. Spoon raspberry syrup around orange. Garnish with candied orange peel. Makes 12 servings.

Note: Do not throw syrup away. Keep adding oranges or other whole fruit such as peaches, apricots, cherries, pears or pineapple chunks. If syrup is depleted, replenish by adding more sugar, grenadine and frozen raspberries. Compote may be maintained if replenished and stored in refrigerator.

AMERICAN SAMPLER BARBECUED BANANAS

6 large bananas, slightly green

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Brown sugar

6 teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 cup whipping cream

2 teaspoons orange extract

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2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Cinnamon

Slit banana skin on underside only. Remove banana and reserve skin. Slice banana lengthwise, but not all the way through to make groove.

For each banana, pack 2 tablespoons brown sugar into groove, allowing some to spill on outside of banana. Sprinkle generously with nutmeg (about 1 teaspoon per banana), then wrap banana in square of foil, twisting ends.

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Place foil-wrapped bananas over hot coals and cook 15 minutes, turning frequently. Cool enough to handle. Unwrap carefully and place each banana over banana skin lengthwise.

Whip cream with orange extract and granulated sugar until stiff. Dollop bananas with whipped cream. Sprinkle with additional brown sugar and cinnamon. Makes 6 servings.

FRUIT PLATTER

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

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1/4 cup cold water

2 cups white grape juice

2 tablespoons grenadine or kirsch

3 cups sliced or whole fruit (cherries, pineapple, peaches, plums, pears, mango, papaya)

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Mint leaves

Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in small bowl. Stir until softened. Heat grape juice and stir with grenadine into gelatin mixture until blended. Cool.

Pour small amount gelatin mixture in bottom of 6 shallow serving dishes or 1 extra-large shallow platter or tray. Arrange fruit and mint leaves in attractive floral or geometric pattern over gelatin layer. Let stand until gelatin is firm enough to keep fruit from slipping.

Add remaining gelatin mixture over fruit. Chill until ready to serve. Gelatin base should be somewhat syrupy. Serve in individual dishes or spoon fruit onto serving dishes with some of gelatin mixture. Makes 6 servings.

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DRUNKEN WATERMELON

1 watermelon, chilled

Vodka

Triple sec

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Cut 4-inch-deep triangular plug from very ripe watermelon. (Triangle should measure about 2 inches on each side.) Mix 3 parts vodka to 1 part triple sec and pour into hole in melon. (This will take some time because spirits slowly filter through watermelon pulp.)

When melon has absorbed as much liquid as possible, replace plug and chill melon in refrigerator or on ice in plastic-foam picnic-type container, overnight or for at least 6 to 8 hours. When ready to serve, cut watermelon into wedges or slices and serve.

CAESAR’S BANANAS AND STRAWBERRIES

1 tablespoon butter

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2 bananas, sliced

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 pints strawberries, hulled and halved or sliced

1 tablespoon sugar

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1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup Cognac

6 scoops vanilla ice cream (about 1 pint), optional

Melt butter in crepe Suzette pan over brazier flame. Add banana slices and sprinkle with lemon juice. Saute until bananas are glazed, but not mushy.

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Add strawberries, sugar and orange juice. Cook over high heat until orange juice is almost absorbed. Heat Cognac until warm. Ignite. Pour over strawberry-banana mixture. Serve over scoop of ice cream. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

FROZEN PEACH MOUSSE

1 pound very ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and coarsely cut

1 teaspoon lemon juice

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1/4 teaspoon salt

2 egg whites

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

Press peaches through sieve. Add lemon juice and salt. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form and fold into peaches. Whip cream and fold into peach mixture. Turn into container or freezer tray and freeze, stirring once, just firm enough to spoon out. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

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CHOCOLATE-COVERED GRAPES

1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate pieces

1 pound grapes or cherries with stems

Melt chocolate over hot water. Coat clusters of grapes or individual cherries with chocolate and place in cool, place to dry. Makes 12 servings.

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Note: Any cut fruit may be used to dip in chocolate, such as peach, apricot or plum wedges or halves, strawberries with stems or melon cubes.

CHILLED CURRY-NECTARINE SOUP

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 tablespoon curry powder

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4 cups chicken broth

2 egg yolks, beaten

1 cup half and half

Thinly sliced nectarines

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Melt butter in large kettle and stir in curry powder and broth. Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes.

Mix egg yolks and half and half. Stir 1 tablespoon hot broth into egg yolk mixture, then stir yolk mixture into soup. Heat and stir until simmering.

Immediately place pan in larger pan of cold water to cool quickly and prevent curdling. Chill well. Thin with more half and half, if necessary. Ladle into chilled bowls and garnish with nectarine slices. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

SUMMER FRUIT COBBLER

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4 cups fruit or berries

Granulated or brown sugar

1 to 2 tablespoons brandy

2 to 3 tablespoons flour

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Butter or margarine

Pastry

Cinnamon

Combine fruit, sugar to taste and brandy. Spoon into 1-quart souffle dish or casserole. Sprinkle flour over fruit and dot with 2 tablespoons butter.

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Cover fruit with Pastry and flute edges to seal. Brush top with 2 tablespoons melted butter, then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Cut vents in pastry to allow steam to escape. Bake at 350 degrees until crust is golden. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Pastry

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

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1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons shortening

1 egg, beaten

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4 teaspoons water

Combine flour, salt, baking powder, brown sugar and shortening, mixing until crumbly. Add egg and water, stirring until mixture holds together. Roll out Pastry 1-inch larger than casserole dish.

Set Construction: RALPH FOWLER Set Design: TERRY REDNAPP FO


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