Most of my favourite summer memories involve picking fruit in some form or another – going up to Lambert’s fruit farms in the Dublin mountains to pick strawberries and raspberries on long summer evenings with my family (the blue plastic baskets coming home full of fruit, ready to be made into jam that evening) and picking from our own fruit trees and bushes – we had raspberries, currants, Alpine strawberries in old concrete breeze blocks, and a secret, well-hidden loganberry, which I’d watch carefully for a week or two, plucking its few unusual fruit as soon as they ripened, before anyone else got to them.
There were the the holidays with fruit trees too: picking heavy purple plums in the Auvergne; foraging blueberries from the scrub in Sweden (using a special bilberry picking tool – very Swedish); eating apricot everything in Austria; and gazing wistfully at fruit-bowed orange and lemon trees in Italy, wishing I could bring a bucketful home.
What I love most about summer fruit is how plentiful it is – you can play with it; experiment with it; make it the star of desserts, and still have some left to eat as it is, with no adornments and no one tentatively reminding you about the price of it. And while nothing beats picking your own glut on a summer’s evening, being able to buy punnet upon punnet of ripe, sweet fruit for next to nothing over the summer is almost as much of a treat, and it means that fresh fruit can rightfully take centre stage for a few months.
VANILLA & THYME BAKED APRICOTS
The recipe comes from Annie Rigg’s Summer Berries & Autumn Fruits, which, according to the Telegraph’s review, ‘is handy if you want to know how to cope with an unexpected glut of summer fruit…Vanilla and thyme baked apricots is a simple way to turn bland apricots into something delicious’. These apricots would be wonderful for dessert or brunch – try them on French toast or with pancakes, for example, stacked high with blueberries and crème fraîche for a lovely summer treat.
12 ripe apricots, washed, halved and stoned
4 strips unwaxed lemon peel
Juice of half a lemon
1 vanilla pod
Sprigs of fresh thyme
2-3tbsp clear honey
2tbsp cold water
Preheat the oven to 190ºc. Arrange the apricots in a single layer cut side up in an ovenproof dish. Tuck the lemon peel and the thyme sprigs amongst them and nestle the vanilla pod down the middle. Drizzle over the honey and the water. Bake for 20-25 minutes, basting the apricots half-way through cooking with their juices, until the apricots are soft but still holding their shape. Taste one. Add lemon juice until you’re happy with the sweet/sour balance. Serve warm or at room temperature with crème fraîche or Greek yoghurt.