Summer Gems Produce: The season's array of fresh fruits makes for delicious pies, cobblers and jams -- to serve now or keep for later -- all the tastier with homemade ice cream. And why not try some sweet, spicy peach relish?


What is a summer without pies and cobblers, jams and homemade ice cream?

With produce so plentiful, it's a good year to do that seasonal thing, planning your menus around the best buy in any given week.

To take advantage of the summer's best fruit, check area farmers' markets and farm stands, which are a good source for produce.

Watch for grocery-store specials, especially on berries. During periods of abundance the price goes down and fruit sells quickly, so delicate berries don't have time to get moldy.

Sometimes supermarket advertising circulars, which are printed far in advance of delivery, don't carry fruit specials. So keep an eye out for good sales in the store.

There's a silver lining in all this if you like to cook with summer's bounty: Fruit recipes are forgiving. Can't find good peaches? Make your cobbler with strawberries and nectarines. Substitute blueberries for raspberries in muffins. Create a crown jewel shortcake with a colorful mixture of strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.

And does it really matter which kind of fruit goes on top of your homemade vanilla ice cream?

Give breakfast a boost from a handful of berries with cereal or yogurt.

Kids won't know they're eating a healthful snack when you make them a fruit smoothie with yogurt, fruit and milk. For two to three smoothies, according to "Kids Cooking" (Klutz Press), put two bananas, 2 cups strawberries, 1 cup plain yogurt and 1 cup milk in a blender and whirl until smooth.

Again, you can substitute whatever fruit is available.

If all of this perfect fruit gives you the urge to preserve, consider making jam. The step-by-step directions in the package of Sure-Jell are simple to follow. Freezer jam doesn't even require cooking.

The Sure-Jell instructions also make cooked jam easier than ever. Janet Myers, manager of Kraft Creative Kitchens in White Plains, N.Y., says that two years ago, the company eliminated the step of boiling jars in preparation for making jams and jellies. Instead, you wash the jars in a hot dishwasher.

Use them hot from the dishwasher. Or, Myers suggests keeping them warm in a 200-degree oven until just before filling them with hot jam. Only the lids and rings need boiling.

You'll find recipes in the Sure-Jell box for old-standbys such as strawberry, raspberry, peach and plum jams, as well as fig jam, orange marmalade and mayhaw, hot pepper and mint jellies.

Summer fruits fit into every meal. Combined with chilies and other spicy ingredients, peaches and raspberries go well in salsas and relishes that accompany meat, poultry or fish.

A cool fruit salad for lunch is a good antidote to the dog days of summer.

Be creative. In the race to enjoy summer's bounty, everyone's a winner.

Strawberry shortcake

Makes 6 shortcakes

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

4 tablespoons sweet butter, chilled, plus extra butter, softened, for topping

3/4 cup light cream

6 cups strawberries (or your choice of assorted fruits), sliced and sugared to taste

1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled

12 perfect strawberries for garnish

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a baking sheet.

Sift flour, sugar, salt and baking powder together into a mixing bowl.

Cut in 4 tablespoons chilled butter until mixture resembles oats. Pour in light cream and mix gently until just blended.

Roll dough out on a floured work surface to a thickness of 5/8 -inch. Cut into 3-inch circles with a cookie cutter. Gather scraps, roll again and cut more rounds; you should have 6 rounds.

Bake shortcakes on greased sheet for about 10 minutes, or until puffed and lightly browned.

Cool the biscuits slightly, split them and spread softened butter lightly over the cut surfaces. Set the bottoms on dessert plates; spoon on sliced fruits and crown with the tops of the biscuits. Whip chilled cream and spoon a dollop onto each shortcake, then garnish with a single perfect strawberry. Serve immediately.

Per serving: calories, 565; fat, 38 g; cholesterol, 124 mg; sodium, 430 mg; 59 percent calories from fat

Sweet and spicy peach relish

Makes about 4 cups

4 ripe or semi-ripe peaches (not so ripe they fall apart), pitted and thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips

1 green bell pepper, cut into thin strips

1 red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup virgin olive oil

6 tablespoons lime juice (about 3 limes)

1 tablespoon molasses

1 tablespoon minced red or green chili pepper of choice

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 teaspoon minced garlic

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Serve with fish or roasted meat. The relish will keep, covered and refrigerated, about 4 days.

Per 1/4 -cup: calories, 53; fat, 3 g; no cholesterol; sodium, 109 mg; 56 percent calories from fat

Berries, frozen yogurt and raspberry sauce

Makes 4 servings

1 pint fresh berries, washed

1 pint nonfat vanilla frozen yogurt

1/2 cup raspberry sauce (recipe follows)

4 sprigs fresh mint (optional)

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