Last week some friends and I went to Brentwood, a wonderful farming community in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is one of the last bastions of true farming, with acre after acre of family-owned orchards and farms. You drive down slender dirt roads between orchards when suddenly there is a sign with an arrow. You follow it through trees that were planted far enough apart for one car to pass, dappled sun shining through the leaves, back to a clearing. The family has set up a fruit stand in the shade and is selling their produce.
There is pride on their faces, weathered from years of hard work on the family farm. They know they grow the best fruits and vegetables in the area and watch with smiles at the “city folk” who pile out of clean, fancy cars ooh’ing and aah’ing at the produce carefully arranged on long tables. If you are a hardier sort you can also pick your own fruit. It is a great learning experience for children. One day in the orchard and they will look at laborers with a newfound respect.
It is hard not to over buy as you look at the low prices and beautiful peaches, cherries, heirloom tomatoes, and fresh corn. Thank goodness we had already eaten before we got there because if I was hungry I would have come home with a car full of goodies! We all shared a flat of peaches and I couldn’t resist the tomatoes. Huge, weighty and vine ripened, I swear they were calling to me, LOL. Our own tomatoes are a couple of weeks away from ripening, so I could indulge in some of the farm’s harvest.
We ate as much as we could but of course with only two of us here, the fruit quickly started to soften. What do you do when you have overripe fruit? Most people I know are scared of making pie. They love eating them but don’t want to deal with making a crust. I’ve got the solution to this dilemma … fruit crisps! A crisp is baked fruit with a sweet crumbled topping, similar to a streusel. It’s a pie without a crust! They can be made with nearly any type of fruit (bananas aren’t the best choice) and assemble in minutes. You can have one in the oven in no time. That’s what I did last night. From start to finish I had a fresh homemade dessert on the table in less than an hour.
A crisp is one of the easiest desserts to make and is perfect for beginning bakers to tackle. I didn’t even use a recipe. I threw the peeled and sliced peaches into a bowl, added a little flour, salt, sugar and spices, and tossed them together. Then I quickly chopped some pecans and combined them with oats, brown sugar, flour, and a touch of butter. The peaches went into a baking dish and I scattered the pecan topping over the top. The pan was popped into the oven and about 45 minutes later out came a crispy, sweet dessert that filled our home with a heavenly aroma.
Crisps are a sure way to get your children to enjoy fruit. Even the pickiest eaters will devour the lightly sweetened fruit topped with a crunchy candied topping. Because crisps are so easy to make and at their best fresh out of the oven, I make smaller batches, just enough to share the day they are made. If you are baking for a crowd you can scale everything up and use a large baking pan. Crisps can make a regular appearance on your dinner table and become one of your go-to desserts.
One of the Brentwood family farms that has attained national attention is Frog Hollow. They are known for the quality of their organic produce and make some of the finest conserves and jams in the country. Owner Al Couchesne decided to make the farm completely organic and sustainable twenty years ago. Initially that meant stopping spraying with insecticides, but with the more strictly defined certification process, these days when you see a USDA or CCOF Certified Organic sticker on the side of a box, you know that they respect the earth. They are committed to make the world a better, healthier place by returning to the practices of earlier generations. Clean air, water, and soil are possible if we support independent organic farmers like Farmer Al.
If you want to sample some of Frog Hollow’s legendary products, you can find them online. In addition to their spreadable fruits you can buy baked goods, premade and shipped frozen right to your door. You can buy tartlettes, cookies, scones, crisps, empanadas, and turnovers with a selection of fruit or savory fillings. They offer fresh fruit programs where you can choose one or three shipments of a box full of their amazing peaches, plums, pluots, or other fruits. You can also opt for a year-round delivery of farm fresh products. If you want to get a glimpse of life at Frog Hollow you can follow their blog. Their prices are quite high, but once you taste the purity of their produce, you will understand why they are one of the biggest sellers week in and week out at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. There is no way we can walk by their shop and not buy something whenever we visit the market.
When summer fruit is piled high at the market and you can’t walk by without being hit with their sweet aroma, buy a bagful and treat your family to a freshly baked crisp. You will be their hero!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
If you have a lot of fruit you can freeze them and enjoy the flavors of summer all year long. Pit and peel the peaches. You can leave them in halves or cut into wedges. Place them in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze for an hour or up to overnight. Transfer to heavy-duty freezer bags, press out as much air as possible and seal tight. Kept in the back of the freezer they will keep about 6 months if you open your freezer regularly, or up to a year if you have a chest freezer that stays closed most of the time.
Kitchen Skill: How to Easily Peel Peaches
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and set up a large bowl of ice water. Using a small paring knife, make a small “X” through the skin on the bottom of each peach. Carefully place the peaches in the boiling water and blanch them for about 40 seconds. If your fruit is slightly under-ripe, you can leave it in up to a minute. Blanching allows the water to get under the skin making them really easy to peel and improves the flavor of under-ripe fruits.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the peaches to the bowl of ice water. Let them cool for about a minute in the water, then drain and gently pat them dry with paper towels. The skins will come right off using either your fingers or for stubborn sections, the paring knife.
- 5 large ripe peaches, pitted and cut into chunks
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup tightly packed brown sugar
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup golden raisins, optional
- Pinch kosher salt
- 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1-1/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into pea-sized pieces
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds (I like chopped pecans)
- Pinch kosher salt
- 1 to 2 tbsp cold water
- Special equipment: 6 (6 oz) ramekins
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- For the Filling: Toss the peaches in a large bowl with the zest and lemon juice. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. Divide the filling evenly between the ramekins.
- For the Topping: Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor except the water. Pulse until combined, this will take about 30 seconds. Add water, 1 tbsp at a time until mixture is clumpy but crumbly.
- Top each ramekin with the topping. Be sure to loosely sprinkle the topping and not pack it down. The idea is to look very crumbly and craggy.
- Place the ramekins on a sheet tray and bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the filling is hot and bubbly and the topping, brown and crispy.
- This is great served hot with vanilla ice cream. If you are scaling this up, you can bake it in a 9x13-inch pan and scoop into individual bowls for serving.