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Beyond the Apple: From grapes to beets, local produce at peak ripeness harmonizes beautifully in bak
By Keri O'Brien - Photos by Allyson Mace
Posted On: 09/03/2004   


If you ask most people what they enjoy about the fall season, chances are many answers would be food related, specifically the pies, tarts and breads that make the most of fresh apples, berries and squash. But people might not be aware of all the fruits and vegetables our region has to offer.

This idea wasn’t lost on the Companion Bakehouse. This month, the Clayton-based bakery will be winding down its 15-week Tour de Fruit campaign, which highlights the best locally grown fruits available from Missouri and southern Illinois. During the different stages, fresh strawberries, cherries, wild berries, peaches, apples and red raspberries were featured in coffeecakes and fruit tarts and on cheesecakes.

Of the endeavor, co-owner Josh Allen said, “We had an interest in trying to promote what’s going on locally and to educate folks about eating not only local produce, but eating it at the time of year it is grown.”

“The customers are really excited it,” said Jodi Allen, co-owner and sister of Josh. “They say they can’t wait until the next stage.”

Despite excited customers, the promotion hasn’t exactly been a bowl of cherries. “We’ve had some challenges,” Jodi Allen said. “Because of the rain and hail this season, it was a challenge to get local produce. When we were doing the mixed berries stage, there were no blueberries because they were destroyed by the weather.”

Finding blueberries might have been troublesome this year, but apples and red raspberries are plentiful now for baking into your favorite recipes.

Local Fare Flair

In regard to baking with fruits and vegetables, using seasonal, local produce is a matter of good taste. “When you buy locally, the food that you’re purchasing was picked ripe and tastes better,” said Angela Gordon, marketing director for Eckert’s Country Store and Farms in Belleville. “As fruit ripens, it creates sugars and minimizes acid,” Gordon added.

“The natural sugars created in the ripening process are what make fruit taste so good. When you buy fruit from a distant supplier, it is traditionally picked before it’s ripe. Once the fruit is picked, it stops producing sugars.”

Marcia Sindel, owner of La Dolce Via bakery and café in Forest Park Southeast, agreed. “Contrary to what most people believe, apples don’t get sweeter or riper after they’ve been picked,” she said. “When you get a piece of fruit that’s not ripe, it’s not going to get ripe. People mistakenly think they’re ripening their fruit, but it’s actually starting to rot.”

New Season, New Tastes

Many local bakeries and restaurants are tweaking their menus to reflect fall’s offerings. “It’s that time of year for comfort food,” said Andrew White, executive chef at Harvest in Richmond Heights. “The days are shorter, it’s cold outside and people are looking for heartier foods such as baked apples and baked quince.”

White’s fall menu also includes such seasonal fare as heirloom tomatoes and pumpkins. A butternut squash gratin, which he serves with a heartier cut of meat such as pork tenderloin, is among several casserole-type dishes he enjoys preparing. Grapes are another popular item with White, showing up in preserves, sauces and fillings.

But what about the important course – dessert? “We will make cobblers and apple crisp-type of desserts,” he said.

Julie Ridlon, co-founder and market master of the Clayton and Maplewood farmers’ markets in St. Louis, likes to incorporate pears, pumpkins, carrots and sorghum into her autumnal fare. At Chanterelle Catering, where Ridlon is chef and owner, some of her featured desserts for fall include steamed pudding with sorghum and farm eggs, a butternut squash pie, sorghum bars and apple butter bars.
Bill Clayton, owner of Clayton’s Bakery and Pastries in Des Peres, was familiar with using local cranberries and zucchini to make breads, but it wasn’t until a customer requested champagne grapes as a cake decoration that he discovered they, too, are grown in the Missouri region. “I found out that wineries in Augusta grow champagne grapes,” he said.

Patrick Thirion, executive chef at The Coronado Ballroom and Nadoz Euro Bakery and Café in Midtown (pictured above), will use pumpkins, sweet potatoes and beets to add flavor to his offerings this fall. “We have a daily quiche using a lot of the different vegetables available regionally; for instance, we’ll put roasted squash in it,” he said.

When it comes to tarts, Nadoz is sweet on them. “We make sweet potato tarts and pumpkin tarts,” Thirion said. “And we do cranberry orange tarts and an apple tarte Tatin.” Some local farms produce pears, which Thirion uses to create another dessert: poached pears in a Madeira wine sauce.

Get Creative

The Internet is a great resource for finding new recipes that use seasonal produce. A search for seasonal baking will supply you with many links to free recipes, including recipes from the Eckert’s family cookbook (www.eckerts.com). “Local cooking classes are a great way to get ideas,” Gordon said. “On Sept. 11, we are hosting a free seminar on cooking with apples and how to store and freeze them.”

Foolproof Fruit

When choosing your fruit, Thirion advised to check it for mushiness. “If you’re buying berries in a store, look at the bottom of the container, then open it up and move them around.”

And, don’t expect to use a mushy or pithy apple to make a good pie. “A bad apple is going to be bad, raw or cooked,” Sindel said. “People think they can cook older, spongy apples. They can make applesauce with them, but an apple pie won’t have the texture they want.”

Fresh fruit such as strawberries and apples can be enjoyed year-round if prepared and frozen correctly. You can prepare your favorite apple pie filling by mixing apple slices, a bit of lemon juice (to prevent discoloration) and spices and then freezing it in plastic bags or freezer containers, Gordon said. Clayton said his bakery prepares and freezes a strawberry whipped cream cake. “To freeze it, you make a starch-based filling, thicken it and put fruit in with a little lemon juice to help preserve it.”

Although the Tour de Fruit will end this month at the Bakehouse, the store will continue to include local fruits well into the fall season. “We’ll be doing pumpkin, apple and cherry pies,” Josh Allen said.

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