(3 1/2 MINUTE READ)
The fruits of summer are fleeting; their fragrance a sign of ripeness, something to measure the passage of time gone by. Whether their sweet flesh is studded with seeds or surrounds one warm stone, the fruits of summer are divine in more ways than one. Armed with soft skins—a palette of warm, sunset colors anywhere on the spectrum from pale and dreamy to vibrant and bold—humans, insects, and animals alike are infatuated by their scents. However, so fleeting are these moments, that we try to remind ourselves, in various ways, of what peak summer fruit season is all about—through a spritz from a fruit-forward perfume, the touch of a peachy velveteen blanket, a swinging pair of beaded ruby red cherries hanging from our ears.
While the fruits of summer differ depending on where you’re located, the fruits I look forward to aren’t uncommon: strawberries, peaches and nectarines, cherries, plums, and melons. When the first wave of subtly oblong melons—their textured skin woven into an intricate pattern—passes through my line of vision, I have the urge to resist, to wait it out for the best of the best and just say no. No to the watered down essence of their pale green, almost translucent flesh. No to the first of the season strawberries—their subtly blushing juice a far cry from the sweet-as-candy syrup destined to stain my fingertips later in the season. But I don’t, as even the first of the season summer fruits aren’t to be taken for granted.
Simply prep strawberries, peaches, nectarines, or plums and toss them into a baking dish. Top the fruits with a crumbly mixture of flour, butter, sugar, brown sugar, and salt amped up with your own addition of textural flavor elements such as shredded coconut, rolled oats, chopped nuts, and spices—plums and star anise, strawberries and black pepper, peaches and cinnamon, nectarines and allspice. Bake until the thickened juices bubble up through the crumble topping and you’re home free.
What about early melons, not yet bloomed to the fragrance they’re destined for at their peak?
Blend them up with honey, sugar, or maple syrup for added sweetness and fresh citrus juice and zest for tartness. Freeze, uncovered in a baking dish and scrape the top with a fork every half hour until you have a melon-y melody in the form of a frozen, crystallized granita.
As we bake or freeze our way to midsummer, even if we’re already satisfied by our clever ways of bringing early fruits into submission, they are no substitute for what awaits us. Peak season is the time when peaches and plums are best eaten straight up, juice dripping down arms and chins, leaving a sticky residue you have to wipe away immediately so it won’t settle into your skin, a trail attracting the buzz of a bee or a comical line of ants as you lay on the grass. The time when little resistance meets your knife as you halve a melon, the scent of it almost sickly sweet—a spoon the best tool to scoop out the flesh and transport it to your mouth.
So what’s the best way to eat peak season summer fruits?
Enjoy them as they are—full, ripe, jammy and sweet—as perfect as they’ve ever been. Their flavors like a precious memory that unlocks your mind, whisking you to summers past, leaving you glowing, a juicy smile on your sun-kissed face.
As the sun sets on summer, and the peak peaches we were inhaling last week have become harder and harder to find, instead replaced by bruised and dented orbs, mealy and soft, we must turn our eyes forward and plan ahead for those dull winter months where the only pops of color greet us in the form of dusty root vegetables (nothing against you, root veg—you have your moment to shine, too).
There are plenty of options to stretch the flavors and the happiness that lie within the ripest fruits of summer: Make a jam or jelly, prep and freeze the fruits, make sorbets or ice creams, use them to infuse syrups for drinks, revert back to throwing a mess of overripe fruits into crumble-topped baking dishes, chop them up into salsas, or roast them for all sorts of sweet or savory uses—you don’t have to be resigned to endure with stone-cold composure the endless, fruit-less season until the fruits of summer seduce you again the following year.
And the cycle starts again: Anticipation building up, peak season going by much too quickly, and decline giving us room to be creative in our hoarding of the ephemeral sweetness of the fruits of summer.