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Fruit Soup: First Course or Last?

July 22, 1993|FAYE LEVY

Fruit soups are a wonderful warm-weather treat. Popular in Eastern and Northern Europe, especially Poland, and also Russia, Germany, Hungary and Scandinavia, they deserve to be better known in America.

In these countries, almost any fruit, even dried fruit, is made into soup. My mother, a native of Warsaw, uses a mixture of summer fruit and always adds a few plums or prunes to give the soup an attractive reddish color.

Eastern European fruit soups are usually made of cooked fruit and thickened with potato starch or flour. Some versions call for spices, such as nutmeg, cinnamon or cloves, and might be sweetened with honey. Often they are served as a first course, occasionally hot, but more often cold. Many are not exactly low-calorie--they are enriched with sour cream; some are even topped with dumplings or butter-fried croutons.

In France I came across another kind of fruit soup. Lighter than traditional ones, they're unthickened and served without cream. Generally the fruit is left uncooked to keep in as much fresh flavor and aroma as possible. Lightly sweetened and moistened with wine, citrus juices or fresh mint are the only other flavorings. No dessert could be quicker or easier.

Whether fruit soups are of the Eastern European or the French variety, they're likely to include wine. The wine is not boiled, so its flavor permeates the soup. The best wine to use is one that you enjoy drinking. For red wine fruit soups, I like Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. Chardonnay's rich aroma and flavor make it perfect for white wine fruit soups.

These recipes use less sugar than classic fruit soups--I like the natural sweetness of the fruit to provide most of the flavor. If you want to serve the soups as appetizers, omit all or part of the sugar.

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This is one of the simplest desserts to prepare. You just puree the cantaloupe with citrus juice, wine and sugar, then chill and serve with melon balls. The soup is refreshing and delicious, perfect for a hot summer day.

EASY MELON SOUP 1 large ripe cantaloupe (about 2 3/4 pounds) 2 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice 1/4 cup strained fresh orange juice 2 tablespoons sugar 1/2 cup dry white wine (such as Chardonnay) About 24 cantaloupe or honeydew melon balls (1/2 large cantaloupe or honeydew) Mint sprigs, optional

Halve cantaloupe. Remove seeds and peel. Cut cantaloupe into chunks to make 4 to 4 1/2 cups. Place chunks in blender or food processor along with lemon and orange juices and sugar. Process until smooth.

Add wine and process until blended. Taste and add more sugar or lemon juice, if desired. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours. Stir before serving. Add melon balls to each serving and garnish with mint. Makes 4 servings.

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For this soup, the fruit is not cooked but macerated briefly in red wine, so there is a flavor exchange.

SUMMER FRUIT SOUP WITH RED WINE 4 oranges 1 1/2 cups dry red wine (such as Cabernet Sauvignon) 1/4 cup water 1/4 cup sugar 4 peaches or nectarines 2 apricots, pitted and sliced, optional 1 pint strawberries, halved, or combination of halved strawberries, whole raspberries and whole blackberries Few mint sprigs

Combine juice of 2 oranges, wine, water and sugar in glass bowl and stir until sugar dissolves.

To peel peaches, scald in boiling water 1/2 minute. Transfer to bowl of cold water, then remove peel with knife. (There is no need to peel nectarines.) Slice peaches and add to glass bowl along with apricots and strawberries.

Peel remaining 2 oranges, removing as much as possible of white pith. Then cut off membranes from segments. Hold each orange over bowl while doing this to catch juices. Squeeze any remaining juice into bowl. Add segments to bowl. Cover and chill 1 to 2 hours. Serve cold. Garnish with mint sprigs. Makes 6 servings.

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This soup is inspired by a dessert I learned from chef Pierre Vedel at La Varenne Cooking School. He recommends serving the soup with a glass of Champagne.

PEACH SOUP WITH MINT Juice 1 lemon 8 ripe medium peaches (about 2 1/2 pounds) 1/4 cup sugar 16 to 20 small mint leaves, plus more sprigs for garnish 1/2 cup dry white wine (such as Chardonnay)

Boil enough water to cover peaches, about 10 cups, and add lemon juice. Add peaches. Cover and cook over low heat 5 minutes. Remove peaches from water and let cool to lukewarm. Remove peel. Cut flesh from 4 peaches and puree in food processor with sugar and 16 to 20 mint leaves until smooth. Add wine and process briefly until blended.

Cut remaining 4 peaches into thin wedges toward pit. Add to soup. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours. Serve garnished with mint leaves. Makes 4 servings.

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