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Produce: As Sweets

Produce as dessert can be as tricky as it is temporal. There are plenty of vegetables we consider fruits, fruits we consider vegetables, “accessory fruits” that don’t really fit into either category, and, of course, other parts of the plant that we may or may not desire as dessert. Presenting produce as dessert can be as simple as rinsing, chopping, and mixing fruits as a salad, to blending them into a shake, to adding other ingredients and boiling, baking, and/or chilling them as a more complex dish.

Then there is the matter of marrying the textures and tastes with “accent” ingredients such as cream or chocolate. Or making a new texture by adding the fruit as the accent, such as in cakes, pies and other pastries, ice creams and sorbets, mousses and puddings. So, we can have one fruit and have endless ways to make it into something unique and delicious, if we just keep in mind the capabilities and boundaries offered by that particular fruit.

Apart from applying our creativity to the process of going from plant to sweet treat, the short shelf life of produce demands that we think relatively quickly after, if not during, purchase. Many fruits don’t last more than a couple of days after arriving home, especially if they are not stored in the fridge. Some of the “tougher” fruits, like bananas and granny smith apples for instance, stay up to a week out of refrigeration; on the other hand, berries and thin-skinned fruits such as plums don’t last quite as long.

The typical food patterns we usually associate for fruit-based desserts include:

Flavor: pineapple and melon, strawberry and banana, orange and strawberry, apple and pear, and berries generally go well together (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, blackberries, etc.). The red currant and its cousin, the lingonberry, go well with other fruits, in preserves, and they also complement meats very well, as we tend to see in Nordic cuisine. Cloudberries and gooseberries, also prominent in Nordic dishes, are less common in the middle latitudes and lend subtly sweet overtones to a dish.

Texture: fruit and cream, fruit and bread, fruit and honey, fruit and ice, the list goes on and on. However, how the fruit is added makes a difference. For instance, lemon-flavored Italian ice sounds good, but why does the idea of drizzling honey over lemon wedges 1) make me want to grab my Vicks Vapo Rub and 2) sound like a rather unappetizing dessert for most? Replace the lemon wedges with baked apple, pear, or even banana, and the dessert is suddenly divine. While we value the lemon for its juice and occasionally its zest, most folks do not like to bite into the meat of the lemon itself, which, admittedly, may have something to do with the bitter taste. But the acidic citrus flesh also simply doesn’t work with everything (again–this is for most people; there are always exceptions). Using lemon with cream is a great idea; but again, you probably wouldn’t serve the lemon itself with the cream; you’d blend the lemon juice or grated zest with the cream and perhaps a few other ingredients in order to neutralize the tartness and offer a smoother texture.  But strawberries with cream is a whole ‘nother story.

Keeping in mind flavor, texture, and longevity, it’s fun to play around with new ideas and push the envelope by investigating and experimenting with the various cooking options for almost every edible plant out there. To help us along, we can look to world cultures for inspiration. We can also borrow (or else fully adopt) the vegan and vegetarian options that have been developed in many parts of the world and that offer us new possibilities for almost any type of cuisine out there. Even if you’re not vegetarian, the techniques cultivated in this branch of culinary thought are very useful in applying to other dishes. And it’s always helpful to have a few recipes on hand if you have vegetarian or vegan friends or family coming to dinner. In the coming weeks I am hoping to flesh out the vegetarian/vegan section of this site (poor pun) with the help of a friend who has already done a lot of the leg work to modify old favorite recipes–stay tuned!

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