Funny old summer, but hey, the cherries are here. Apricots, too, mostly from Turkey or France. It is unusual to come across a ripe apricot by chance. I buy any that look as though they might be worth a punt and ripen them at home. A sunny windowsill; in a paper bag with a ripe banana to encourage them along in the airing cupboard if your memory can be relied upon; anywhere that is warm but not humid to encourage them to turn from cotton wool to luscious. The two fruits work beautifully together, too.
A fine apricot, flushed with scarlet and tiny brown dots, its flesh almost like jelly, has the advantage over its cousin the peach by having a snap of acidity, most pronounced when the fruit is dried. (A French farmer once told me that his main client, a supermarket chain, kept pushing him to breed apricots that were larger and sweeter. A clear case of someone not understanding the true magic of the fruit.)
Cherries are a natural partner for ham. You can pickle the fruit using white-wine vinegar, sugar, cloves and peppercorns. The fresh fruit can be added to a warm Cumberland-style sauce of redcurrant jelly, citrus and mustard, but they shouldn't be overlooked as a raw fruit either. I halve them, discard their pesky stones (don't assume for a minute your guests will want to count them, tinker-tailor style, this isn't cherry pie) then toss them with a very small amount of white-wine vinegar and the merest pinch of sugar, and leave to marinate for 10 minutes or longer then toss with cherry tomatoes and serve with ham. Better, I think, is to use salami or coppa, thinly sliced, tucked among the fruits. If you can find a good peppery salami, then all the more interesting.
Even the dullest small apricot is transformed into an exquisite little morsel with the introduction of sugar and heat. Poach the fruit with sugar and orange. Bake it with honey and lemon. Musing over something to add both sugar and teasing sharpness to a box of apricots this week, we hit on the idea of simmering them with elderflower cordial and orange juice. The effect was astounding, and the fruit swelled and glowed.
The spice I appreciate most with the apricot is cardamom and the pairing works just as magically in a dessert. I added the spice, podded and finely ground, to a butterscotch sauce and spooned it over the poached fruits. Over the top, perhaps, but glorious nevertheless.
Cherries, tomatoes and salami
Sweet sharp fruits make a fine addition to a summer lunch. The salad will be at its best if the cherries are cold and the tomatoes not overripe, maybe even slightly sharp. It can also served as a starter. Mozzarella would work well in this salad, too. Serves 2.
cherry tomatoes 150g
tarragon vinegar a little
salami 100g, a good peppery one
Halve and stone the cherries. Cut the tomatoes in half then toss them with the cherries. Sprinkle a little of the vinegar over and set aside for no longer than half an hour. The fruits don't need to be seasoned.
Slice the salami thinly, remove the skin, then tuck among the cherries and tomatoes.
Apricot brioche, cardamom butterscotch sauce
I make these with brioche buns, one per person. Unless you make your own, they are not especially easy to find in the shops. A neat alternative is to cut thick slices from a brioche loaf, the sort available from the major supermarkets. This is an unashamedly rich dessert. Serves 4.
For the sauce:
double cream 150ml
green cardamom pods 15
light muscovado sugar 150g
For the buns:
elderflower cordial 8 tbsp (120ml)
orange juice 180ml
brioche buns 4
Halve the apricots, discard the stones, then roughly chop half of them. Stir together the elderflower cordial and orange juice, then add the apricots and let them cook for 15-20 minutes over a moderate heat until soft.
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Slice a deep cross in the top of each bun, cutting down almost to the base. Push the sides in with your thumb and fingers to open the buns out a little, then stuff them loosely with the chopped apricots. Put the stuffed buns in a shallow baking dish, tuck the halved fruits among them, then pour the juice and cordial over them and bake for 15-20 minutes.
While the fruit-stuffed brioche bake, smash the cardamom pods open then grind the black seeds inside to a powder. Put the cream and muscovado sugar in a saucepan, add the crushed cardamom and slowly heat, simmering for a few minutes. Set aside for a few minutes for the cardamom to infuse with the cream.
When the brioche are ready, transfer them to serving dishes. Tuck the apricots around them, then spoon over the orange and elderflower syrup. Pour the cardamom butterscotch sauce around the buns and serve.
Cherries with rose syrup
Rose syrup, very different to rosewater, is a delicately flavoured sugar syrup and is available from Middle Eastern grocers. It is sweet - only a little is needed. Serves 4.
sugar to taste
Stalk and stone the cherries and put them in a bowl. Halve, stone, then thickly slice the apricots. Scatter over a little sugar, no more than 1 tsp, then a few drops of rose syrup. Toss very gently, then leave for 20 minutes or so before serving.
Email Nigel at email@example.com
Picture: Soft touch: a salad of cherries, tomato and salami. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer.