All the summer fruits are coming to the farmers’ market in Southern California now – two weeks ago the kids begged for “anything but citrus, NO MORE ORANGES!” and now we’re happily gorging on strawberries, melons, peaches, nectarines, cherries…. I try to buy for the week, carefully choosing some peaches that must be eaten TODAY, some a little greener, and some still quite hard. And now there’s the daily ritual of peeking into the paper bags on my counter, pulling out the ripe ones and returning the green ones to ripen for another day or so.
But what do you do when you have fruit that you want to serve for dessert, but it’s just not quite there yet? Or if you want to dress the fruit up a bit for a special yet healthful dessert? An easy solution is to slice it up and soak (the culinary term is “macerate”) it a bit in simple syrup, which is a mixture of sugar and water, often flavored with another ingredient. Voila – homemade fruit cocktail, delicious and free of all the artificial ingredients!
Plan to make your syrup ahead, so it cools, and soak the fruit for up to a few hours before serving.
- your choice of fruit, cut into 1″ cubes or slices
- 1 c sugar – raw cane works here, but white is better for the sake of color
- 1 c water
flavoring – choose one:
- 2 T chopped fresh herbs (best to stick to 1): mint, basil, thyme, rosemary, lemon verbena….
- 1 tsp dried herbs (choose from the previous list)
- zest from 1 orange, lemon, or lime
- spices (best to stick to 1): 1 stick cinnamon, 1/2 tsp whole cloves, 1/2 tsp whole allspice
- feeling really adventurous? 1 small dried red chili or 1 small fresh serrano chili, cut into rounds, or 1/2 tsp any color peppercorn
- Dissolve the sugar in the water in a saucepan, and bring to a boil without stirring.
- Immediately turn off the heat and add the flavoring.
- Let the syrup cool to room temperature, then strain out the flavoring (you may want to use cheesecloth to catch the really fine bits).
- Pour over the fruit and let it sit for up to 1 h at room temperature or up to 4 h in the refrigerator, stirring gently once in a while.
- Just before serving, you can add a bit of fresh flavoring – chopped fresh herbs or citrus zest.
The syrup can be made up to a week in advance, strained, and kept, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.