Summer Fruits and Herbs

A Perfect Pairing

I’m sure I’m not alone in my anticipation of and delight in the lush locally grown fruits that show up at farmers’ markets around the country during the summer.  Delicious on their own, it’s easy to  kick up the flavor even more by judiciously pairing them with herbs from your garden. 

Lavender is one of my favorite herbs, but I had never thought about cooking with it until meeting Roger Vergé, acclaimed owner/chef of the Moulin de Mougins, years ago on a trip to the south of France.  Not only did he infuse brown sugar with lavender for his desserts, he often added a slosh of lavender vinegar to fresh fruits in place of a more sophisticated liqueur.  Since lavender is so abundant in Provence, it’s not surprising lavender flow
ers also showed up at La Bonne Etape, a charming inn dating back to the 18th century.  Here the Gleize family briefly poached fresh cherries in a lavender flavored simple syrup, then decorated the cooled fruit with more lavender flowers.  It was also in France, in a cozy Parisienne wine bar, that I discovered the unexpected affinity of coriander for strawberries and oranges.  Somehow the exotic flavor of the herb enhances the fresh flavor of the fruits.


Coriander Fruit Compote

4 navel oranges

1 pint fresh strawberries

1/2 cup fruity white wine

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root

1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander

1 - 2 tablespoons sugar, optional

Peel and slice the oranges over a bowl to catch the juice.  Add the orange slices and strawberries to the bowl along with the wine, ginger, and coriander.  Mix gently and let stand one hour before serving so flavors have time to meld.  If the strawberries are very tart, add sugar.   Serves 6.

Perhaps the simplest way to add herbal flavor to fruits is with an herbal syrup.  Just pour the cooled syrup over the fruit or lightly poach it in the syrup.  To make the syrup combine 1 cup sugar and 2 cups water in a saucepan, bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add several tablespoons of the chopped herb or herbs of your choice and let steep until the syrup is cool.  Strain and use as is or return the syrup to the pan, add the fruit, and poach over a low flame until the fruit is barely tender.  Variations are limited only by your imagination, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Mint syrup over pineapple

Rose geranium syrup over fresh or poached strawberries

Cinnamon basil syrup to poach peaches

Lemon verbena syrup over blueberries

Fennel syrup with figs

Borage or salad burnet syrup with melon

Added bonus:  any of these syrups could add an interesting twist to summer drinks.

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© photos Chris Mead; drawings Don Wise, text Emelie Tolley



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