Figs, apricots, quince, persimmons, and grapes; these gourmet fruit varieties stem from such unique lineages but possess similar captivating applications in the kitchen.
These are a collection of gourmet fruit ingredients I use time and again in entertaining because they transform the level of a dish. Their panache is unparalleled. I use them in appetizers as a sweet counter to savory meats and cheeses. They’re delightful as a part of the main course in braises, tagines, or roasts.
Then finally, they act as a sweet capstone in tarts, galettes, cakes, or toppings. These fruits have the power to change whatever you are serving from ordinary to special. They lend an earthy classiness to your meal.
When I was a little girl, my mom would regularly make apricot jam. I grew to adore this jam on a piece of freshly toasted English muffin. I still taste the apricot flavor in my memories. Now, as an adult, I return to apricots as often as I can. They often find their way into braises, such as a chicken, white wine, and wild mushroom braise atop potatoes or rice. Apricots perfectly balance the savory hues and help create well-developed sauce.
Likewise, quinces have played a role in my culinary journey. I was first introduced to this fruit when I lived in the French province of Alsace. The mild climate of eastern France is perfect for quince trees to thrive. Harvested in the late fall, they turn into pastes and butters, and they’re baked into cakes, tarts, and galettes. Quince also adds a refreshing sweetness when sliced and roasted with lamb in a tagine.
As an added bonus, if you happen to live where quince trees grow, you get the privilege of enjoying their spring blossoms, which are the most electric color of pink coral possible. I swoon at the far-fetched idea of having a quince tree in my yard.
I take fresh, homemade pasta (trust me, it’s worth it to make the pasta for this recipe from scratch), and toss it with browned butter, figs, and pistachios, among other things. What stands out to me in this recipe is the crunchy je ne sais quoi nature of those tiny fig seeds. It’s worth buying the cookbook just for this recipe!
As with quinces and apricots, making a fig paste, or a very concentrated jam, to serve with cheeses and meats proves a sweet counter to the more savory hors d’oeuvres items. These intensely flavored fig pastes are also amazing with a slice of buttery pound cake, in the filling of a crepe along with some Brie, or melted into a marinade for grilled meat; the list could go on and on. Pretty soon I’ll be putting it on my toast. Wait a minute, that’s actually a great idea…
Persimmons meet and exceed the same thresholds as the other fruits in this collection. They can have both sweet and savory applications. When included in your menu, they elevate the playing field. The color and shape of persimmons are almost cartoonist. They make me smile. As with many fruits, the wild ones have the most interesting flavor. When cooked into pudding and butters, persimmons’ bright flavor adds a complicated sweetness that’s hard to pin down but delightful to the palate.
I have left my oldest friend for last, the red grape. For most of us, grapes have woven their way in and out of our menus our whole lives. They’re an easy and nutritious fruit that your mom packed in your lunchbox during elementary school. For me grapes showed up in their wild form first. Wild grapes grow all over Minnesota. They spread by the birds, so they can be found along many public fencelines or climbing up poles or trees. These aren’t the sweet grapes from the grocery store. Rather they are tiny explosions of richness in your mouth. They really shine when made into jam, juices, or pastes, which I grew up eating. The best grocery store jam pales in comparison.
Moving into adulthood, the first savory use for grapes was a chicken salad recipe from Lukins and Rosso’s original Silver Palate cookbook. Here red grapes serve as a delightful surprise up against the slivers of chicken, celery, and onion. A chicken, grape, and white wine braise over curried rice was my next iteration.
The grape I chose to paint for this newest collection caught my fancy because of its charming story. A vine was discovered winding its way up and around an old oak tree on Longanesi’s property in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. They took cuttings and planted them in their vineyard. The grapes grew and thrived, and today roughly 500 acres of this grape variety is grown. Many Uva Longanesi varietal wines are now made from this grape.
The Gourmet Fruit Art Collection
I painted the gourmet fruit varieties in this culinary art series because each lies close to my heart with its connection to great cooking. They are delicious in countless meals, and with them you can create complexly flavored food year round.
This art collection honors just a few of the sweet and beautiful ingredients in our repertoire. It’s my wish that you enjoy these fruits on greeting cards and fine art prints as much as you would enjoy them in your cooking.