Blackberries grow like weeds in the Pacific Northwest, and when I was a kid, my family picked the blackberries from the bushes behind an elementary school near our house every summer. My parents taught my brother and me to only pick the berries that slid easily from their stems
to collect in our little plastic containers, and I’m pretty sure we ate all
of the berries that we picked, staining our fingers and faces while leaving the majority of the actual collecting to the adults. When we got home, my mom would make a simple jam in our largest pot, with just blackberries and sugar.
My parents also loved to garden, and when we moved into a house with a yard, my dad built garden beds out of old railroad ties and filled them with fruit and vegetable plants. My mom planted an entire bed full of raspberry canes that looked like dried-up sticks; when they grew up tall and strong, they produced the most gorgeous berries. We picked them by the fistful every July and we turned our harvest into preserves and pies—and snacks, of course. I would stand in the kitchen and help my mom fill pies with mounds of fresh berries, sugar, and a bit of spice; we rarely measured, but the results were always delicious. She would bake up little scraps of pie crust sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar for me to snack on while the pies took what seemed like an eternity to cool on the counter.
The kitchen in our home was always busy and warm, and my dad cooked just as often, mostly savory dishes from his homeland of Iran. He introduced me to the flavors of Middle Eastern cooking that have become so comforting to me as an adult. But maybe more importantly, his cooking taught me how important it is to balance flavors in both sweet and savory food. In Iranian cooking, rich meat stews are tempered with cool, tart yogurt mixed with cucumbers and mint, and all sorts of pickled vegetables. Bitter tea is served with sweet dates and saffron candy.
When I moved to New York from Seattle, I thought I might go to culinary school to hone my home-cooking skills into professional ones, but after graduating college with a mountain of debt, taking on more to go to culinary school seemed like the wrong choice. Instead, I decided to get a job at a restaurant and figure out a way to get myself into the kitchen. I quickly found myself a job as a reservationist for a busy chain of teahouses, where I spent most of my time consoling frustrated customers who couldn’t get the brunch reservation they wanted. It wasn’t exactly the professional restaurant experience I was looking for.
I still baked at home for fun and leisure, and every once in a while I’d bring in the treats I made to share with my coworkers and boss. When a position in the bakery of the restaurant opened up, I convinced my boss that I could handle the kitchen (anything was better than answering the phone all day!) and pick up the skills I needed on the job. He gave me a chance.
That chance turned into many years of apron- and clog-clad early mornings making scones and icing cakes, and of coming home from work smelling sweet and floury. I had burns all over my arms from the broken oven doors that swung closed unexpectedly, but I was strong from lugging around fifty-pound bags of sugar and cases of butter. I learned how to make the best buttery pie crusts and tall, frosting-covered layer cakes. I loved the work. Sometimes I miss those early morning walks across a quiet Central Park to bake hundreds of scones before the city even woke up. There was magic in those hours, and even though I don’t work as a baker anymore, I have returned to baking at home for fun, and I share it all on my blog, Apt. 2B Baking Co.,
which celebrates seasonal desserts
Although my current life in Brooklyn involves a “garden” of a few potted tomato plants and herbs on my fire escape, I make sure to embrace the seasons at my local farmers’ market. I’m always looking for new, interesting dishes to cook and bake, but what I love most is reflecting seasonality through the ingredients I use, all while keeping the idea of balanced flavors in mind. I eagerly anticipate rhubarb in the spring, berries and stone fruit in the summer, apples and squash in the fall, and glorious citrus to brighten up cold East Coast winters. Then I celebrate the seasons’ finest produce by tucking it into pies, cakes, and whatever else I can dream up and I also preserve the season with my own homemade jams. This book is filled with just those types of recipes.
We start in the spring, when everything is fresh and new. Fruit is slow to emerge, but there is plenty to do with strawberries and rhubarb. The bright flavors of spring’s first green herbs are perfect for infusing into ice cream and panna cotta. In the summer, the variety and abundance of fruit can be almost overwhelming; in that section of the book, you will find pages of baked desserts, as well as cooling treats like granitas and sorbets, and jams to save the season. Fall highlights crisp apples and pears topped with oaty crumble and tucked into tarts. Musky Concord grapes will be turned into pie and roasted squash spun into ice cream or folded into nutty cake batter. In the winter, we move to warm, comforting recipes that will keep homes and bellies warm, and sunny citrus recipes that can brighten up the darkest January days.
This collection of recipes was written with peak-season fruit in mind,
but some recipes straddle the seasons as spring turns to summer, summer to fall, and so on. So while this book is organized seasonally, it’s best to think of the year as a continuum. Some years we are lucky and there are fresh figs at the market while the berries are still flourishing and the first grapes of fall are being pulled from their vines. Raspberries hit their peak at the height of summer, but often reappear in fall for a brief moment, perfectly timed to combine with the first tart red cranberries. Apples are plucked from their branches starting in late summer, but storage apples are available year-round. While winter is prime citrus season, when we have the biggest variety of lemons, oranges, and grapefruits, you will still find citrus zest and juice in recipes throughout the book. We are lucky
in New York to have beautiful and bountiful farmers’ markets, and I do my best to source my produce from local farmers. I encourage you to
keep a close eye on what is available at the markets where you live and
do the same.
The recipes in this book range from simple, five-ingredient affairs to more complex and involved baking endeavors like laminated pastry dough and composed tarts. My hope is that you’ll find something that’s just your speed, and that these recipes show the wide range of desserts you can make that highlight fresh, seasonal fruit all year. At the end of the book, you’ll find a section full of basic recipes like oaty crisp topping, buttery pie crusts made with both whole grain and all purpose flours, pastry cream, and homemade vanilla extract and crème fraîche, among others. These recipes serve as the basis of many recipes throughout the book, and once you get the hang of them, I hope you’ll feel free to freestyle some fruit desserts of your own.
Copyright © 2016 by Yossy Arefi. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.