I last used this space to recommended that you take a second look at the not-quite perfect fruits hiding behind and beneath farmers’ market tables. If you already have a favorite peach recipe, then I’m sure I didn’t have to tell you twice—and if you chose to snatch up an armload of peaches you already know what to do with them. But if, instead, you chose to blindly follow my advice (thank you!) without any idea of what to do with the fruit you’ve started stashing away in your freezer...well, I feel honor-bound to offer a suggestion.
Long-time readers may recall my aversion to the fussiness of making pie. To complicate matters, stone fruit and berries give off lots of juices when they cook. Generally, they do well in a tart with a prebaked crust...either in fresh pieces arranged on a cloud of pastry cream, or else baked in a single layer so that excess liquid evaporates before it can turn the crust into a soggy mess.
But overripe seconds are no good fresh, and even you can carve off some relatively firm slices, sorting through the fruit and arranging it in an intricate pattern is hardly low-effort. As far as I’m concerned, the best lazy recipes can be summed up as, “Dump in a pan, add a topping, bake until done.”
Peach cobbler is a popular option that fits this model, but I could never quite get into it: even the best toppings seem too doughy and bland, and the leftovers taste stale after a day or two.
So the first year that I faced down a freezer stocked with peaches and berries, I reverted to my tried-and-true apple crisp recipe. But things are never so simple—remember all that extra liquid? It’s not just that stone fruit and berries release lots of liquid; apples do that too. It’s that they don’t have enough natural pectin to make those juices gel.
While there’s nothing wrong with a little fruit juice on your dessert plate, there’s nothing really right with it, either. Those juices are tasty—and impossible to eat with a fork. Lost juices mean lost flavor, and the best way to rescue that flavor is to concentrate it and make it easier to eat. Borrowing a basic technique from canning, this summer fruit filling uses a combination of sugar to make things syrupy and starch to bind everything together.
Sugar? Surely the fruit we are working with is sweet enough! But if you use only starch to soak up the juices, it will soak up all the flavor as well, and you will end up with a dull, pasty mess. Sugar, on the other hand, concentrates the juices into a syrup while they bubble away in the oven, minimizing the need for starchy thickeners while also highlighting the fruits’ own flavors. I include a little lemon to temper the sweetness—a splash of juice and just a pinch of zest are enough to maintain a proper balance.
For that last kick of substantial thickening, I prefer to use white flour, which disperses easily throughout the fruit filling and has a relatively neutral flavor. If you like, you can substitute cornstarch. Because it has more thickening power than flour, you need use only half as much cornstarch, between four and five teaspoons.
Even so, I find that something tastes “off” with cornstarch in the filling—perhaps I’m just noticing a contrast with the predominant fruity, oaty and wheaty. And although other common thickeners, such as tapioca and arrowroot, are virtually flavorless, they create a gummy texture that works against the melting luscious we expect of summer fruit.
These amounts of sugar and flour won’t cause the filling to coagulate into a solid mass—and that’s okay. The best solution is to serve the crisp alongside a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. A few errant streams of syrupy liquid will escape to flavor the ice cream, but that’s okay. And if you have any trouble eating ice cream with a fork, I give you permission to use a spoon.
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: about 50 minutes, plus 20 minutes cooling
- ¾ cup rolled oats
- ¾ cup whole wheat flour
- ¾ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
- 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp salt
- 6 Tbsp (¾ stick) butter or margarine, slightly softened, plus more for greasing pan
- 2 – 2 ½ cups sliced peaches, fresh or frozen (from 4-6 medium peaches)
- 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen blueberries (do not defrost)
- 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 1/8 tsp lemon zest
- 1 – 2 tsp lemon juice
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9-inch pie pan.
Mix oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl. Cut butter into about a dozen pieces and add to bowl. Using a pastry cutter or your fingertips, work the butter into the dry ingredients until mixture is crumbly and no large chunks of butter are visible. Set aside.
In another bowl, mix together all-purpose flour, granulated sugar and lemon zest. Add peach slices and blueberries to bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice; using your hands or two spoons, gently toss to coat fruit with flour mixture.
Transfer fruit mixture to greased pan, leaving filling slightly higher in the center than at the edges. Spread topping evenly on top of fruit. Place pan in oven with a baking sheet or sturdy layer of foil underneath to catch any drips.
Bake for 35-40 minutes; deep blue juices will bubble up through the topping in some places. Let rest at least 20 minutes before serving to allow filling to set. May be made a day ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. Reheat or bring to room temperature before serving.
Variation: Use a mix of stone fruits, such as nectarines, plums and apricots, in place of some of the peaches.