Simple, sweet, and sufficient

When you have just a handful of fruit

May 19, 2011

Several times a year I teach at Rancho la Puerta in Tecate, Baja. Breakfast offerings there always include bowls of mangoes, papayas, pineapple, and melons, plus one week recently, strawberries from the ranch’s organic farm. I never eat fruit like this at home, but there I do — it is so good!

It never fails that when I get back to New Mexico I try to repeat the experience, but the fruit is never as good here as it is there, and after a few attempts I usually give up. Except that now happens to be the season for the small yellow Ataulfo, or Champagne, mangoes, and they are pretty much always delicious. (No, they aren’t local, and I do indulge.)

As it happened, strawberries were in the farmers’ market last weekend, and a friend brought a basket of them to dinner. The berries were tiny and fragrant, and even if I don’t have another berry this summer, I know I already had some of the most perfumed, sweetest little berries around. We put them together with the mangoes I already had in a compote for dessert.

The compote recipe happens to be from my book, Seasonal Fruit Desserts. But I include it because it’s such a good example of how recipes come about: you have mangoes, someone else has strawberries (but not too many), and there you are.

Ataulfo mangoes and strawberries . . .
. . . pair well for dessert.

You don’t always have to have cups, quarts, or pounds of fruit to make a fruit dessert. This one uses just a handful or two of strawberries — about what a small garden would offer at any one time, or the farmers’ market in an area where berries are seldom offered (like mine) — and a couple of small mangoes. It’s pretty, simple, and sufficient.

If the strawberries happen to be large, try mincing them, letting them macerate a short while in just a bit of sugar. They don’t always have to be served whole or in halves. Chopping them into smaller pieces is unexpected and a good way to share a small treasure. They become a surprise, instead of just a strawberry.

Of course if you have something like the incomparable Alpine strawberries, you probably won’t have many, but a few, you’ll find, can go far because they’re so exquisite. (If the berries are very soft already, as is often true with Alpine strawberries, don’t rinse them — they’ll just disintegrate.)

This is a dessert to enjoy if you’re bypassing ingredients like butter, cream, sugar (but for a little, and it could be honey), and the like. But it’s awfully good served alongside those richer (but not very) desserts like a coconut rice cake or coconut custard (both in the book) or spooned over a yogurt-and-honey ice cream.

Deborah Madison is the author of numerous award-winning cookbooks, including Local Flavors. She lives in New Mexico.

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Local Flavors

Deborah Madison, the celebrated cookbook author and local-food advocate, feeds us with her occasional reflections. Her latest book is Vegetable Literacy.

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