Until I became a parent, picture books were definitely not on my list of interesting reads. I think it’s because as a so-called grown-up, I assumed that books that depended largely on pictures to tell their stories were dull and simplistic, appealing solely to the youngest among us.
And then I had children, and like most of my prior assumptions about being a parent, my assumptions about the appeal of picture books flew right out the window. A picture book, I quickly learned, is a magical combination of words and art that can stir the imagination of any age.
One picture book that I especially loved to read to my daughters was Katie and the Sunflowers by James Mayhew. It features Katie, a little girl of about six, who decides to visit the art museum with her grandmother after rain washes out their plans to spend the day gardening. Upon entering the building, Katie is immediately drawn to the warmth and sunniness of paintings by the artists Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gaugin, and Paul Cezanne. In fact, Katie is so captivated by their works that she soon climbs inside several of them. The charm of Katie’s antics as she plays with, and runs from, the characters in the paintings is matched only by the beauty of the book’s illustrations. Its pages glow with the reds, yellows, blues and greens that were so beloved by the artists whose paintings Katie unabashedly explores.
I was reminded of this book during a recent visit to my local farmers market. Being late summer, its tables were a kaleidoscope of colors. Some held assortments of red and orange peppers, green and yellow squash, and even some purplish string beans, all jumbled together in a mosaic-like mix. Others were checkerboards of alternating boxes of red and yellow cherry tomatoes and red and green grapes. Still others held baskets brimming with multi-hued stone fruits such as peaches, whose mottled surfaces of luminous oranges and yellows successfully beckoned to all but the most indifferent passers-by, and plums, whose moodier purples, blues, and blacks hinted at the cooler weather to come. I felt as if I were walking with Katie through the pages of Mayhew’s book, awash in glorious colors.
Of course, the real beauty of a farmers market is that everything on display is meant to be eaten and not just beheld. Making my way through the market that day, my thoughts turned to how I would incorporate some of this profusion into my weekly cooking rotation. I wanted something that would highlight the seasonal perfection of the fruit while respecting the need for convenience that the end of summer demanded.
A fruit crumble was the answer. For the uninitiated, a fruit crumble (or fruit crisp as it is sometimes called) is a baked dish of any combination of fresh fruit topped with a crumbly, streusel-like topping. I made mine using a mix of yellow peaches and blueberries. After washing and drying the fruit, I halved the peaches, removed their pits (a melon baller is perfect for doing this), and cut each half into equally sized pieces. I then combined the fruit with some honey, vanilla, and lemon juice (which pair beautifully with the flavors of the peaches and blueberries) as well as a bit of sugar (to add a hint of additional sweetness) and corn starch (to thicken the juices released by the fruit as it bakes), and placed the mixture in a 9” x 9” square pan. I topped it with a blend of white whole wheat flour, oats, sliced almonds, and light olive oil, and then I baked everything in the oven at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.
The result was a dessert that satisfies any number of culinary requirements. Warm chunks of seasonal fruit bathed in honey- and vanilla-scented juices and surrounded by crunchy pieces of topping? Check. A family-friendly dessert that is as easy to make as it is appealing to serve. Check. A versatile way to use up fruit that’s misshapen or blemished or has lingered too long in the refrigerator’s produce drawer. Check, check and check.
Equally important, my fruit crumble is a much healthier alternative to other sugary desserts. Its ingredients provide a bounty of healthful nutrients, including phytochemicals (fruit and almonds), healthy fats (almonds and olive oil), and fiber (fruit, almonds, oats, and whole wheat flour), without the downside of a large amount of added sugar.
So the next time you’re walking past tables of ripe yellow peaches and plump blueberries (or any other seasonal fruit for that matter), grab a few and transform them into this delicious fruit crumble. Your inner Katie will be smiling.
Peach and Blueberry Crumble
1/4 cup (50 grams) white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) almonds, chopped
3/4 cup (75 grams) rolled oats
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) olive
4 yellow peaches, thoroughly washed, stoned and cut into small chunks*
1 cup (175 grams) blueberries, rinsed and drained**
1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice (preferably freshly squeezed from half of a lemon)
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Make the topping: Combine all of the topping ingredients except the olive oil in a medium bowl. Stir in the olive oil until it coats all of the ingredients evenly and there are no dry pockets. Set aside.
2. Make the fruit filling: In a large bowl, carefully whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Stir in the honey, vanilla, and lemon juice. Let the mixture stand for a few minutes to allow the sugar and cornstarch to dissolve. Add the cut peaches and blueberries and toss gently to combine.
3. Place the fruit filling in a 6-cup baking dish, scraping out any juices that remain in the bowl with a spoon or rubber spatula. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top of the fruit. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. Let cool for at least one hour to allow the filling to set. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.
*To prepare the peaches, wash them gently under running water. (I like to use a soft brush that I dedicate to the cleaning of fruits and vegetables.) Using a paring knife, cut each peach along the seam (which runs top to bottom) and around the stone in the center of the fruit. Grasping the fruit in both hands, gently twist each half in opposite directions to separate them. The stone should remain in one of the halves. Using a small spoon or melon baller, gently lift out the stone and discard. Cut each half into quarters, and then cut each quarter into three to four equally sized pieces. Repeat with each of the remaining peaches.
**If you prefer, you can substitute an additional peach for the blueberries.
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