You know those food memories that swirl deep in your brain? I’ve got one for ambrosia. My grandparents used to make it every Christmas, a stripped-down version that included fresh orange and grapefruit sections, sliced bananas, shredded coconut and maraschino cherries. They left out marshmallows – I happily discovered that creamy version years later – and if nuts were included, I emphatically directed my spoon around them. In fact, I tended to avoid the grapefruit, too, in favor of the sweeter oranges, mild bananas and gaudy cherries. The way those flavors mixed with tropical coconut was a transformative diversion for picky kid weary of casseroles.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, kumquats are in big supply in southern Louisiana and other parts of the country right now, overloading backyard branches and appearing in the produce aisle in pint-sized containers. According to the LSU AgCenter, we grow two kinds of kumquats in Louisiana, the oblong Nagami and the rounder, sweeter Meiwa.
I have a couple of Meiwa kumquat trees in my herb garden, and every year, I struggle to use the crazy abundance of fruit that won’t stop coming. They’re like sharks teeth. Pick one, and it seems like a dozen more are right behind it in varying stages of ripeness, ready to take its place.
This simple kumquat cake is moist and flavorful and is a great way to use 2 cups of fresh fruit.
For the record, I’m a big fan of the mini-marshmallow.
One of my greatest food memories is cozying up to a marshmallow-y fruit salad — classic Southern ambrosia – that someone brought to my maternal grandfather’s after funeral gathering. I’ll never forget the way the baby marshmallows melted into the citrus juice, creating creamy goodness and a perfect comforting texture. I couldn’t stop eating it. Years later, I similarly fell in love with something called Green Stuff, a congealed cottage cheese and marshmallow fruit salad made by an old boyfriend’s mother and always served at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Yum. I love a bowl of trashy.
But as much as I savor marshmallows, and as much as I bow down to tradition, this year, I wanted an all-natural version of the classic holiday side….
Homemade peach ice cream is a tradition across the South, and it’s an incredible treat to savor before the peach season fully slips away. Growing up in Georgia, I have a soft spot for peaches and lots of memories of fresh, churned ice cream with peaches front and center. This was THE flavor ice cream to make in the summer, and I know plenty of people for whom this is still an important seasonal ritual.
As as kid, I didn’t fully appreciate it. In fact, I remember preferring flavors like Rocky Road or “Chocolate Ripple” or something studded with cookie dough or Snickers bars. Peach ice cream was boring and for grown-ups. I’ve come full circle, and thank God my kids have better taste than I did.
The figs have started to ripen here in South Louisiana, and a couple of days ago, we started harvesting the sweet fat fruit from our backyard tree – braving mosquitoes and trying to beat the birds. Some days we eat every last fig over the sink within minutes of giving them a rinse. Other days I manage to set some aside and share them with my friends, especially my next-door neighbor, Martha. She paid me back for fresh figs once with a really yummy fig cake. It’s a great use of figs – super moist with a light, but sturdy texture and pleasant, subtle fig flavor. The recipe, Martha tells me, is modified from the Junior League of Monroe’s popular 1972 cookbook, The Cotton Country Collection. Tone down the sugar, and it makes a super breakfast cake. Here it is, below.
You know summer is here when long-awaited fruits emerge. Lately, I’ve been picking up pints of blueberries from our local farmers market, and my own backyard blueberries and blackberries (so easy to grow here!) are ripening like crazy. My kids and I try to head outside early so we can harvest them before the birds beat us to it. It’s a mad rush. Fresh blueberries make their way into lots of different recipes in my kitchen, but one of my favorites is a fast and easy fruit sauce that’s a perfect topper for dessert or a sweet breakfast.