Seasons by the Sea: Late Summer Dessert Stars

This has been one of the best years for beach plums
Beach plums, now in abundance, make great jams, chutneys, and crostatas, and can even be infused into vodka. Laura Donnelly

The calendar may say it’s the end of summer, but it’s really not. We still have a good four to six weeks of glorious weather, warm ocean and bays, fewer tourists, and plenty of fruits and vegetables still growing. So before you resignedly trudge through an apple orchard thinking this is the only fruit you have to work with this time of year, think again.

For starters, this has been one of the best years for beach plums; I’m assuming the relentless sunshine and very little rain had something to do with it. If you don’t mind the amount of labor for not much yield, beach plums can be a versatile, free, and delicious addition to sweet or savory dishes. I have already picked about four quarts from a few bushes in Amagansett, and they still have plenty more ripening. I have made chutney, Dutch baby pancakes, cros­tadas, and infused the fruit in vodka, turning it a bright, hot pink.

Peaches and berries are still around, but probably the stars of late summer are plums. The types we see often, and that are the most agreeable for eating out of hand or in cooking, are Damson, French prune, and Santa Rosa. Dam­sons are a more tart variety, French prunes are smaller and sweeter, and Santa Rosas are more reddish than purple. Plums are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, copper, dietary fiber, and potassium. If you purchase them unripe, leave them out until they soften a bit and become fragrant. After that, it is okay to refrigerate them.

Summer pudding is an old-fashioned British dessert that utilizes stale bread with any variety of berries you wish. You simply layer the bread (a Pullman loaf or Pepperidge Farm Very Thin bread are good for this) with sweetened fruit, press it into a bowl, and let it sop up the juices overnight. Unmold before serving and top with whipped cream.

Pavlova is another easy and inexpensive dessert, requiring only egg whites, sugar, and whatever fruit you wish. You can make the meringues in advance, store them airtight for up to three days, and serve whenever you want. The name came from the Russian ballerina Anna Matveyevna Pavlova, who performed throughout New Zealand and Australia in the 1920s. Both countries claim the recipe as their own, but it is most likely from a chef at a hotel in Wellington, New Zealand, who is said to have created the meringue to look like her tutu, layered it with kiwi fruit to mimic leaves, red fruit for roses, and topped it with whipped cream to give the illusion of tulle. If you want to make a sloppy version of this dish, go for Eton Mess, basically a mixture of all of the above, smashed up in a bowl, also English.

Another good dessert for the segue into fall is pound cake topped with whatever fruit you like, fresh and macerated, or cooked into a compote.

Lastly, why should late-summer fruits be the only stars for dessert? How about all that zucchini still growing in your garden? Make a zucchini bread and incorporate it into a bread pudding. Same for corn, it only gets better at this time of year, and I like to add fresh kernels to little corn cakes or financiers and top these with a slightly boozy berry sauce.

I love fall as much as the next person and enjoy spending more time by the stove than the barbecue. But I also cling to the end of summer and try to stretch its bounty to the very end.

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