By Susanne Merrett
After a long winter, and seemingly endless spring, summer is a very welcome guest. Warm days and sultry nights awaken memories from childhoods past and encourage a more carefree, breezy attitude.
For me, warm summer days offer an abundance of new food items. Even though once seasonal foods are now available year round, I still think of strawberries as the true herald of summer. While I have succumbed to those enticing California strawberries that pop up in the grocery stores in late winter, nothing beats local strawberries; those crimson little gems, warmed by the sun and bursting with flavour that just beg to be eaten on the car ride home.
Of course, strawberries are just the beginning of all the wondrous fruit of summer. After the delight of strawberry season, we are blessed with raspberries (a personal fave!). Some gardeners dislike the raspberry's invasive and thorny nature, but I find them irresistible. I always head out to the garden with a large bowl, my culinary imagination running wild with possibilities, my belly filling up long before the bowl does.
Inevitably, raspberry season shares the stage with blueberry season as June gives way to July. Here in Nova Scotia, the iconic blueberry has understandably been elevated to rock star status. Our slightly acidic soil is perfect for growing those dusty blue orbs packed with equal amounts of sweetness and antioxidants.
As summer progresses, the fruits continue to impress. By the time autumn approaches, mother nature has been especially kind with her gifts – blackberries, gooseberries, cantaloupes, watermelon, peaches (my absolute fave – thank goodness for Ontario peaches!), pears and, of course, apples (the unsung hero of the fruit world).
While all of these fruits are gorgeous for eating all on their own, they are so very often turned into something sweeter. Fruit salads grace many a picnic table, while fruit cobblers accompany Sunday brunch. And let's not forget about pie, that wondrous combo of flaky pastry and sweet fruit that is the staple of baking competitions! Beyond a doubt, fruit + sweet = pleasure.
Even though sweet fruit is undeniably delicious and satisfies the childlike sweet tooth in all of us, I often take fruit in an entirely different direction. Some of my most treasured salad recipes feature fruit in a more savoury role. On a hot day, nothing quenches quite like a Watermelon, Feta, and Mint salad drizzled with olive oil. For a nice light dinner, give me a plate of baby spinach, topped with fresh peach slices, dried cranberries, crumbled goat's cheese, walnuts, and a balsamic vinaigrette, and I am in gastronomic Nirvana.
As with any recipe, the trick to using fruit in savoury dishes is the balance of flavours. The inherent sweetness of fruit needs to be offset with something salty or tangy or earthy. Some good combinations are: strawberry and basil or blueberries and pecans (either with cream or goat's cheese on toast or as part of a salad); strawberry, black pepper, and Grand Marnier (add whipped cream for Strawberries Romanoff); peach, ginger, and toasted almonds (either on yogurt or as part of a salad); diced, cooked chicken, apples, and celery, tossed in mayo, topped with cranberries and walnuts, and drizzled with Orange Dijon dressing; the salty sweet Italian delight of cantaloupe (or any melon) and prosciutto ham; and, of course, Sangria (wine + fruit juice + fruit), the indisputable elixir of summer.
Regardless of which savoury avenue you take, I encourage you to be adventurous, be bold: take your favourite fruit in new and tantalizing directions. Your taste buds will thank you for it!