Here we are again — blink — summer is over and the season is just about to turn. Daytimes are variably warm, but the nights are cooler. Today began at 80 degrees F and ended at 48. Although bad weather has foreshortened the harvest for us, this is also the melancholy but wonderful period when the produce of two seasons crosses.
The acorn squash is ready when the peppers are still around. Eggplant, tomatoes, basil and squash come in together for glorious ratatouille and minestrone. Leeks come back to join the onions and garlic; beets poke up again; arugula, and soon spinach, reappear. Local cherries, blueberries and apricots are long finished; this year’s second crop of raspberries was trashed by hurricane Irene. Still, peaches, plums, pears and apples are all at the orchard and farmers markets, together for a very brief time.
The crossover bounty of summer and fall fruits is great for conserves of all kinds because they bring together fall fruits with peppers, cucumbers or green tomatoes to make winter treats. With a little kitchen effort now, your Thanksgiving table will shine with dishes of chutney, ketchup, relish, pickles and tutti-frutti. Jarsful make special holiday gifts as well. The high sugar content and (often) vinegar in these concoctions assure little risk of spoilage and make the canning process easier, too.
The fruit also means I’m in my dessert glory now. I admit that I’ve never gotten really good at making pie crust; it takes a special touch. But nothing could be easier than plum torte, pear-almond tart, tarte Tatin, crisps, cobblers, buckles, slumps, puddings and bettys. Boy oh boy … I don’t even have to peel the fruit.
The recipes for these desserts are perfect for this transition time of year. Did you find a windfall? Slice the fruit up and double the topping. Got too few peaches? Add some plums, or just make a little custard to fill in. Like the juices thicker? Add more cornstarch or flour. Are the early apples tart? Add a bit more sugar. Or, if the ripe pears are very sweet, reduce the sugar. Change the spice, the combination of fruit or the elements of the topping. You probably have the makings of at least one of these old-fashioned desserts in your pantry right now; just add fruit.
Why not try some novel combos that mix the dribs and drabs while we still have them, such as the blog I wrote on what to do with melons that never quite ripened. Make up a new salsa that mixes peaches and green tomatoes. Substitute ripe blue plums for watermelon in a salad with feta and mint. Mix early apples with late beets and fennel, roasted or in a purée. Pears make a terrific salad with second-crop spinach. Slow-braise young leeks with “mature” green beans — slow cooking will break down the woody beans.
Today, I’m preparing watermelon rind to pickle along with thin slices of jalapeño. The rich possibilities of this moment’s food can make you creative.