Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 39 Issue 19 • Sept 10-16, 2009
now in our 39th season

The Fruit Dish

by Jenn Farmer
Sous Chef at Bartlett's Farm

When I was a child I spent a lot of time with my grandparents; they had a huge hand in raising me.  They had a wonderful dairy farm, lovely gardens, and a small orchard.  We also had woods, with a pond and creek.  We did not have much money, but ate from the abundant gardens and foraged in the woods for berries, wild mushrooms, onions, and other plants.  I also remember catching crayfish (crawdads) in the creek, and fishing in the pond for small fish.  In the summer we were fortunate, the land provided us with so much to eat.  But the winter could be very harsh, so we did a lot of canning and freezing of food for use throughout the year.  In fact, we had home-canned fruit with every meal if there was no fresh fruit.  We used a fruit dish for this portion of the meal.  Many people have no idea what a fruit dish is since they are a dying tradition.  A fruit dish is a cross between a bowl and a saucer.  They are about the size of a saucer, but a little deeper, like a shallow bowl.  I love fruit dishes!  My grandmother had some “good” ones that matched her nice china, reserved for holidays and other special events.  Then she had her “everyday” ones, for ,well, everyday use.  Fruit dishes were on the table for supper and dinner.  In the Midwest (where I am originally from) supper means lunch.  Usually this was anytime between 11 am and 1 pm.  Dinner is always the night meal, or anytime after 4 pm.  We ate at earlier hours than most families, since my grandparents were up very early on the farm, especially when there was milking to be done.   

One of my most vivid memories is of my Grandfather coming in for supper.  He was always in overalls, and usually smelled of wood chips (and usually had some in his hair and a dusting of them on his clothes), motor oil, and fresh clean soap.  He loved cutting wood, and working on the lawnmowers, tractors, and other machinery.  Grandpa was always as freshly scrubbed as he could be after working outside all morning (Grandmother saw to that, since she was fastidious about the house staying clean!).  His glasses would be slipping a little down the bridge of his nose as he sat down at the kitchen table.  He would begin the meal by making himself a glass of ultra sweet iced tea.  Grandpa had a sweet tooth, and liked to have a large sugar bowl on the table next to the salt and pepper.  My grandparents and I were usually a pretty quiet group at supper.  Most of the background noise was from the AM radio tuned to a local news show.  There was always some small talk of the day’s happenings, but then silence.

No matter how simple the meal was there were fruit dishes on the table.  Often we had home canned pears, plums, or even tomatoes from our orchard and garden.  My favorite was the more exotic peaches (from cousins trips to Southern states), or bing cherries from the grocery.  The bing cherries were my favorite at dinner time.  I would take the juice that was left over from the cherries and pour it over our dessert: ice cream (served in big bowls, since grandpa had such a sweet-tooth).  We frequently ate really lovely fruit crisps and pies from the canned or frozen fruit too. 

Since canning is a complicated process, and can be a little dangerous if you are not careful, I am going to skip canning processing, and go right into recipes.  There are lots of great books, websites, and other resources dedicated to home canning and preserving of foods, they can be much more informative than I can in a short article. 

Bourbon and Bing Cherries

  • 4 cups bing cherries, washed and de-stemmed (pitting them is optional)
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 and 1/2 cups bourbon, whiskey, or even brandy  I like to use Nantucket’s very own Nor’easter Bourbon by triple eight distillery) 

Bring one cup of the sugar and two cups water to a boil.  Blanche the cherries, by quickly dipping small batches of them into the hot syrup.  When all the cherries have been blanched, add the remaining sugar to the syrup and mix until dissolved.  Bring this syrup mixture to a boil, remove from heat and add the brandy.  If you are canning this mixture, spoon cherries into clean, sterilized, hot, jars then pour the liquid over them.  Follow canning directions carefully.  Can be served hot, cold, or warm, and tastes great over ice cream.  Makes about 6 pints of cherries

New England peaches are arriving on island; they are really sweet and delicious.  I love to taste the special summertime flavor that only peaches and nectarines have.  I especially love it in the winter, when I am feeling a little blue.  I am not sure why, but nectarines and peaches taste like sunshine to me and always cheer me up.  Here is a fun recipe; it is great with the local blackberries that are ripe right now too!  You can make this in the winter with frozen fruit from the summer.

Peach and Blackberry Crumble

  • 1 pint fresh blackberries (or blueberries, or raspberries)
  • 3-4 peaches, pitted and medium diced
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • Up to 1/ 4 cup sugar (optional)
  • 2 T. flour
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Crumble topping

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • One half cup butter
  • 1/ 2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/ 2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease six small baking ramekins, or a 10 inch baking dish.   In a bowl toss together the fruit, lemon juice, flour and vanilla.  If the fruit is tart you may add up to 1/ 4 cup sugar to sweeten it up.  In a separate bowl make the crumble topping by mixing up all the ingredients except the butter.  Add the butter by mashing it in with a fork, a pastry blender, or by rubbing it in with your hands.  This mixture should be coarse and lumpy, but will make the dessert crispy and crumbly. 

Fill each ramekin, or the baking dish with the fruit, then top with an equal amount of crumble topping.  If you are using the individual ramekins place them on a sheet pan before placing in the oven to prevent boil over ( and that lovely burning sugar smell) in  your oven.  Bake for about 35 minutes (it may take a little longer in the baking dish).  They will be golden brown when they are done.  Cool for a few minutes before serving, since it is molten sugar, and can burn you and your guests.  This is great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Serves about 6

I really miss the fruit dish.  I am unsure when I stopped having fruit with every meal, but it is a tradition I intend to resurrect for my son.  I hope he will have fond memories of eating great meals (including fruit) like I do.  Now I just have to go get myself some fruit dishes.

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