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A few weeks ago The Washington Post ran their annual Top Tomato Recipe contest. The editors carefully cautioned contestants that there were plenty of good tomato soups and fresh pasta sauces in the world, so entries in those categories better be darn good.

I had no intention of jumping into a crowded category.

Tomato’s a fruit, right? And there are a bunch of other ripe fruits at this time of year, in fact, oodillions of ripe stone fruits and berries, right? So what about a dessert, with tomato balanced by other, sweeter fruit? I set to work.

I figured that Grammy, who always served sliced tomatoes sprinkled with both salt and sugar, would be behind me in this. There are no tomato desserts in her collection, but her tomato conserve loudly proclaims that tomatoes can shine as a sweet.

Tomatoes, peaches...what's missing?

Tomatoes, peaches...what's missing?

My first attempt was horrifying. Our friends Klaudia and Peter were generous. “Glmmph, interesting,” they mouthed through fiercely dry cornbready topping. I had dreamed that a cornmeal cobbler crust would be a nice touch. Not so: The heavy and dry topping completely overpowered the fruit. And I had only used peaches and tomatoes, a combination that tilted too much toward acid.

The next try was workable: Add in plums for uncomplicated sweetness and juice, and scale the topping back to a nutty crisp. A bit more tweaking and I was ready to send in the recipe — a mere 17 minutes to go before deadline.

Several weeks later, the call came: My recipe was selected from 158 entries as a finalist. I still smile to think of it. And I am proudly wearing my Top Tomato 2010 shirt for more baking.

Tomato-Peach-Plum Crisp from Baking Family

Tomato-Peach-Plum Crisp (aka Three-Fruit Crisp)

Serves 6

  • 1 pound tomatoes, washed, cored and sliced into thin wedges (about 3 cups)
  • 1-1/2 pounds mixed peaches and red plums*, washed, peaches peeled and both fruits thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 5 tablespoons salted butter, sliced into half-inch pieces and well-chilled

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, combine tomatoes and stone fruits. In a small bowl, mix granulated sugar with cornstarch; add into fruit mixture and mix well. Pour fruit mixture into a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan.

Put flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and pecans in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse the mixture three or four times, until the nuts are finely chopped. Add chilled butter, and pulse three or four times more, just until butter is chopped. (If you start to see clumps, stop. You’re headed for cookie dough.)

Spread topping evenly over fruit. Put pie plate on a cookie sheet wide enough to catch drips, and place the sheet in the preheated oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until topping is lightly browned and fruit is bubbly. Serve warm or room temperature.

*I use about 1 pound of peaches, ½ pound red plums.

Recipe and photographs copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

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I spent Sunday morning out at Butler’s Orchard, a great pick-your-own farm about 45 minutes from my house. My pal Lynn and I have gone there for the past few summers to pick blueberries. We’ll go for a few hours, returning home hot and laden with silvery-blue berries, most of which go in the freezer to brighten February oatmeal.

The trick is to get there early; that way, you beat both crowds and heat. This year, we arrived at 8:20 for the 8:30 opening. We were third in a line of cars waiting to drive to the parking field. The parking field, riding the wagon behind the tractor, and finally the rows of bushes. We stayed where the flag-girl first put us, letting the chatty crowd flow around and past to supposedly bigger and better bushes. After half an hour, we were on our own, picking and chatting in that way that works so well around a blueberry bush — the topic of the moment, sometimes deep and often not.

I came home with ten pounds of blueberries and began the freezing: Two cups, washed and picked over well, shaken dry and laid out on a pan in the freezer. Wait a few hours — you’ll have a panful of little blue marbles — then dump the batch into a labeled quart zipper bag, suck the air out and plop said bag in the freezer.

Blueberry Crisp from Baking FamilySome berries did not get frozen. Those privileged few — five cups-worth to be exact — became our dessert: Blueberry crisp. Just enough topping to accent the berries and bring out their best, not too much fuss for the summer kitchen. I like a crispy topping, so it’s nuts for me. I’ve tried almonds, but pecans have a kinder nature. They marry well with the sugar and butter, drifting gently into the background while still providing crackle.

This topping can be used to make a peach crisp, or a blueberry-peach crisp, or a peach-plum crisp (use a little tapioca or cornstarch in the filling if you use plums — juicy!). Just grab some of all that freshness around you and make a dessert.

Blueberry Crisp from Baking Family

Blueberry Crisp

Makes one 9-inch deep-dish crisp

  • 5 cups fresh blueberries, washed and drained
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • 5 tablespoons butter, cut into half-inch pieces and re-chilled

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, mix blueberries, granulated sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Pour into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.

This is what the topping should look like

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, put flour, light brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pecans. Pulse four or five times, until everything is mixed and the nuts are finely chopped (but not pulverized). Take butter out of refrigerator and add to topping; pulse two or three times, just until the butter is chopped. If you start to see clumps, stop: You are headed for cookie dough.

Spread topping evenly over fruit. Put pan on a cookie sheets or another pan larger enough to catch drips, and put into preheated oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until topping is browned and the fruit is bubbly.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Or for breakfast (right, Charlie?).

Recipe and photos copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

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