SO MUCH DEPENDS ON THE WEATHER,” Brian Nicholson writes in Fruitful: Four Seasons of Fresh Fruit Recipes (Running Press, May 2014). He could have added, “and so much depends on a highway.”
In 1957, the Nicholson family, who were poultry farmers on Long Island, were displaced by an expressway on-ramp. Rather than give up the agrarian life, Joe Senior bought an established orchard in Geneva where he could sell the fruits of his labors directly to consumers. Now, three generations later, Red Jacket Orchards’ products—from peaches to juices to preserves—are a highlight in a region stuffed full of divine eats.
But the one downside of Red Jacket Orchards is the limitations of its distribution web. Ripe fruit can only travel so far. Their fresh-pressed and proudly cloudy juices are only in so many stores. Fruitful, however, can go anywhere.
This cookbook, writes Daniel Humm, the executive chef of Eleven Madison Park (and Red Jacket lover), “enhances the sense of community that the Nicholson family has always embodied since the day they bought those first acres of farmland, decades ago.”
Like the sub-title suggests, Fruitful is organized by season, starting with spring. Joe Junior offers practical tips for would-be fruit farmers about, say, the real world demands of a blueberry bush or cherry tree. Brian Nicholson, the third generation to work the farm, offers a little bit of drool-inducing description about any given fruit before the recipes devoted to each. “A dead-ripe apricot,” he writes, “is so soft that you can pull apart the velvety halves with your fingers, give a gentle squeeze, and watch pearls of delicious, sweet apricot nectar percolate up.”
While the recipes themselves are as inspiring as the text— just try to resist searching for a handful of red currents when you encounter the picture for the Freekeh Salad with Red Currants, Arugula, Golden Beets and Feta or for pears for the Braised Pork Shoulder with Leeks and Pears—an added bonus is all of the charts and formulas Nicholson has created.
If you make the classic farmers’ market move of buying vast quantities of irresistibly ripe produce before you’ve thought through what you’ll do with it, Fruitful offers a mix-and-match pie outline that lets you customize based on what you have and includes an easy take on the locally famous Grape Pie. If you’re confused by the many types of apples on sale come fall, there’s a handy chart that breaks down what each variety is best known for. And if you don’t know which fruit would play best with which type of cheese, there’s a diagram for that, too.
As useful as Fruitful is during this heady summer season where local offerings are begging to be consumed, it will be even more useful for winter season prep. The final seasonal section runs down how to preserve the harvest in chutneys, jams and butters. Best of all, it also includes recipes for homemade Crème de Cassis and Damson gin, among other alcoholic staples. There’s a cocktail for each concoction, too, which might be the kindest way to get through the unavoidable winter and back to spring, again.
By Adrienne Martini, Martini Made.
See more from the Summer 2014 issue.