There are a few standard types of cookbooks. There are the ones that offer recipes for soups, salads, mains, and desserts. Then, there are ones focused on particular topics like sweets or appetizers or grilling. I just read a review copy of Plum Gorgeous by Romney Steele, and this cookbook doesn't fit any of the standard moulds. Instead, this book is a stroll through an orchard from season to season with memories, quotes, and recipes for fruits at their peak of ripeness. The chapters move from citrus to berries followed by stone fruits and fall fruits. There are recipes for preserving fruits, turning them into lovely desserts, and using them in savory dishes too. So, among the citrus recipes, you'll find orange marmalade and preserved lemons and ideas for using them along with kumquats and toasted couscous with halloumi and a rangpur lime mascarpone tart. I was taken with the idea of making a sweet, savory chutney, and I had a mango from my CSA waiting to be used. There's an apricot mango chutney in the stone fruit chapter, but since it's peach season here, I went with what was available. Local peaches, onion, and chiles with my mango from south Texas and a few other spices became an aromatic, spicy condiment. There are suggestions for serving the chutney with cheese and bread or stirring it into a rice dish with chicken. I've used it two ways so far. First, I topped some little pieces of homemade sourdough with Pure Luck chevre and dollops of the chutney. Then, I stirred some into whole wheat couscous with toasted pine nuts, parsley, spinach, and pulled pieces of roasted chicken. Both were sweet, savory bliss.
Making the chutney was actually easier than I expected even though it does simmer for about an hour and then sit overnight. A pound of peaches was pitted and chopped but not peeled, and the mango was peeled, pitted, and diced. The recipe also calls for dried apricots, and even though I was using fresh peaches instead of fresh apricots, I added a few chopped, dried apricots for the texture. Onion, garlic, a few chopped hot chiles, lime zest, grated ginger, a cinnamon stick, coriander seed, mustard seed, cloves, black pepper, raw sugar, and champagne vinegar were also included. Everything was combined in a stock pot and cooked until the liquid evaporated and the flavors came together. In the recipe you're instructed to leave the chutney covered in the stock pot overnight. I leave almost nothing out in my kitchen since I fear the house is too warm in the summer. So, I refrigerated the chutney overnight. The next day, it was cooked again to deepen the flavors, and I added a little salt and more black pepper. The finished chutney can be kept in the refrigerator for several months, but I don't think it will last that long.
This book is both a guide to each season's fruits and a collection of fond memories centered on food. It's a great resource for using what's available now at the markets, or in your own orchard if you're lucky enough to have one, and for daydreaming about next season. I've already tried the fig relish recipe as well, and I'll be mentioning that soon.
Now, regarding that giveaway, Back to the Roots has offered to send a grow-it-at-home mushroom garden to one lucky commenter. I recently received a mushroom garden of my own, and it's an amazing way to easily grow food on your kitchen counter. The garden is contained in a small box with recycled coffee grounds for soil inside it. You just mist the open sides of the box each day, and oyster mushrooms begin to grow after about a week. Read more about the mushroom gardens here, and you can receive a 10% discount on purchases with the code mushrooms4me10. All you have to do to win a garden is leave a comment on this post before Monday August 8, 2011 at noon CST. Include your email address with the comment so I can contact you. The winner must provide a US mailing address. Good luck!
UPDATE: The winner of the mushroom garden is Lola Lobato.