Bonjour et bienvenue to a celebration of French fruits and summer recipes!
Part of the enjoyment of French fruits and vegetables comes from recognizing and appreciating different prized varieties. Starting in early spring and lasting through the end of summer, one can take a delicious taste tour of France, simply by visiting the produce market. Here are a few highlights and some ideas for using fruit as an ingredient in French recipes.
The fair weather fruit season in France starts early in April with the appearance of the first strawberries. La gariguette, an elongated orangey colored strawberry, is perhaps the
most prized of these early French fruits. They are highly reputed for their marvelous odor and perfect balance of sweet and tart flavors. They are a delicate fruit, reminiscent of wild strawberries. At their best they are still firm to the touch, but dissolve easily into juicy yumminess in your mouth. Gariguettes really are best enjoyed just as they are.
Strawberries in French Cooking
Nature - Really flavorful strawberries are served simply with a sprinkle of sugar or a dollop of whipped cream, or maybe dipped in melted chocolate.
Pureed - Pureed strawberries are stirred into plain yogurt, fromage blanc, crème fraîche, or used to make a simple strawberry mousse.
Tart - A shortbread crust is covered with pastry cream, then garnished with fresh strawberries and currant jelly, to make this popular strawberry tart recipe.
Salad - Sliced strawberries are dressed with lemon or orange juice, herbs (mint or basil), a touch of sugar, and perhaps an alcohol such as Grand Marnier.
Jam - The most popular of jams in France and maybe the world over is strawberry.
Soup - Strawberries are pureed with wine and other flavors to create a surprising and refreshing dessert soup.
Coulis - Pureed strawberries are combined with sugar, cooked a short while, then strained through cheesecloth to make a luscious strawberry sauce.
Try a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper on your next strawberry. People are nutty for this taste combination, saying the pepper really brings out the strawberry's flavor. Balsamic vinegar is also frequently combined with strawberries.
This golden round plum is emblematic of the Lorraine region of France, where soil and weather conditions are ideal for their cultivation. Their small size and amazingly sweet and juicy flavor, encourages you to eat one after another.
Uses in French Cooking
Baked - In general plums bake very well, and you will find them in pastries, flans, clafoutis, and crumbles. Try them baked in this plum tart recipe.
Pureed - Plums can be cooked slowly on the stove top with a little sugar and then whirled into a compote or frozen into a sorbet.
Dried - The plums that are grown near the town of Agen in south western France, are used to make fat, juicy Pruneaux d'Agen, protected by a European label called an Indication géographique protégée (IGP). Try them in this flan like prune cake recipe named Far Breton.
Meat Accompaniment - Served with poultry or pork, plums make a great taste contrast in savory dishes.
Try adding a sprinkle of cardamom, ginger, cloves or black pepper to baked plum recipes.
Cherries - Les Cerises
Special Mention: La cerise de Montmorency
Although this tart cooking cherry is now grown extensively in North America, it owes its name to France, where it was once heavily cultivated along the edge of the Montmorency forest just south of Paris. It is still perhaps the most popular cooking cherry in France, and cooks swear by it for making the best tarts and clafoutis.
Uses in French Cooking
Out of hand - Popular varieties for immediate satisfaction are the bigarreau and the guigne.
Tarts - Be sure to use a sour cooking cherry when making tarts or pies. Here is a simple cherry tart recipe.
Clafoutis - This very easy French dessert calls for baking fruit in a mixture of milk, eggs, flour and sugar. For an authentic touch, do not pit the cherries in your clafoutis. This is said to improve the flavor and results in a more attractive presentation.
Brandy - Homemade flavored brandy, or eau-de-vie, is quite common in France, and cherry flavored brandy is one of the most popular.
Dried - Dried Montmorency cherries are said to be excellent sources of antioxidants. Try eating these for a healthy snack or as an ingredient in salads, cakes, or served in a sauce to accompany chicken or pork.
Similar in taste to a North American cantaloupe, the Charentais melon differs in that its skin is mostly smooth. Although the department of Charente certainly produces these melons, the
truth is that in France much of the melon is imported, mostly from North Africa. There is, however, a prized variety called a melon Charentais jaune or yellow Charentais melon, that is nearly
exclusively grown in France. A ripe Charentais melon is juicy and very sweet with a distinct musky aroma.
Uses in French Cuisine
Calissons - A French candy made in Aix-en-Provence, the calisson combines the flavors of melon, orange, and ground almonds in a beautifully crafted jelly topped with a thin layer of fondant icing.
Melon and Cured Ham - A classic combination, many times this ham appetizer will be made with Italian prosciutto or for a more French experience, try Bayone ham.
Pineau - I could not mention the melon de Charentes without also making note of one of my favorite French drinks. Pineau, also a speciality of Charentes, is a luscious combination of wine and cognac. A classic French summer treat is to serve a half of melon filled with pineau.
Ask a French Food Question
Many readers have written to me with some great questions about French food and cooking. If you have a question of your own, submit it here and I will try to respond on Easy French Food.
That's it for French fruits and summer recipes, so until next month kind readers I wish you happy cooking and great eating.
For the next issue, due out in early September: celebrate back to school with some French recipes specially created with kids in mind.
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