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Savor the '96 Crop

July 25, 1996

We are in the middle of the best year for stone fruit in some time. In other summers there may have been more fruit. In other summers there may have been better prices. But for sheer flavor, 1996 is one for the books.

By every measure--soluble solids, titratable acidity, skin pressure--this year's fruit is coming up strong.

"This is a vintage year," says Micky George, a not-disinterested fruit shipper. "You'd have to go back to 1990 to find fruit that was this good. This is a year we'll remember for quite some time."

The reason for the high quality runs directly counter to one of the cardinal maxims of the produce business. It's an agricultural commonplace that in years with big crops, quality is high. The logic being that the same warm, sunny weather that makes fruit plentiful also makes it flavorful.

This year is special because of bad weather--at least early in the year. The warmest winter on re cord produced an extended bloom period that played havoc with pollination. Some flowers fell off the trees without being pollinated. Some baby fruit fell off the trees after being pollinated.

As a result, each tree is supporting far less fruit than normal. In effect, nature thinned the fruit even more rigorously than the most careful farmer.

The bottom line is that this year's fruit has exceptional flavor but is strictly average in terms of numbers.


This is from Lindsey Shere's "Chez Panisse Desserts" (Random House, 1985).

6 tablespoons unblanched whole almonds

8 amaretti (Italian macaroons)

6 tablespoons butter, softened

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 egg yolk

1/2 to 1 teaspoon kirsch

1 1/2 pounds nectarines, cut in half and pitted

1 to 2 tablespoons melted butter

Toast almonds at 350 degrees until sweet smelling, 6 to 7 minutes. Almonds should not brown inside. Chop almonds by hand into 1/8- to 1/4-inch chunks.

Crush amaretti between sheets of wax paper using rolling pin. Crumbs should be in tiny chunks, not fine powder.

Beat butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar, then egg yolk and continue beating until mixture is again light and fluffy. Beat in amaretti and almonds and flavor with kirsch to taste.

Scoop out enough flesh from pit of nectarine to make hole big enough to hold rounded tablespoon of filling. Arrange nectarines face-up in buttered baking dish. Brush tops of fruit with melted butter and bake at 375 degrees until filling has browned and nectarines are cooked through and tender, about 20 minutes. Cool 10 minutes or so, then when cool enough to handle, slip off skins. Serve warm.

Makes 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

274 calories; 111 mg sodium; 82 mg cholesterol; 19 grams fat; 25 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.89 gram fiber.


1/2 (17 1/2-ounce) package frozen puff pastry dough

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

3/4 pound absolutely ripe peaches, plums or nectarines, or combination

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1/4 cup apricot jam

1 tablespoon Cognac

Roll puff pastry to smooth out. Place on greased baking sheet. Trim 1/2-inch strip from each side and both ends. Beat egg with water and brush on surfae of large piece of pastry for 1 inch from all edges. To create tart shell, place long strips on top of long edges of puff pastry, trimming to fit and pressing gently to seal; then place short strips at ends, triming to fit and pressing gently to seal. Pre-bake crust at 400 degrees until barely golden, about 10 minutes.

Peel peaches by briefly poaching them in boiling water; refresh in ice water and slide peels off. Slice fruit between 1/4- and 1/2-inch thick and arrange on pre-baked tart crust. Sprinkle with sugar and dot with butter.

Bake at 350 degrees until pastry is puffed and browned and fruit is soft, about 20 minutes. While tart is baking, melt jam and Cognac in small saucepan, then push through strainer. Remove tart from oven and cool slightly. Lightly brush with jam to glaze.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

313 calories; 185 mg sodium; 46 mg cholesterol; 16 grams fat; 39 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 3.57 grams fiber.

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