One of my first memories of Deborah Madison's cooking involves some unbelievably delicious deep-fried lemon slices. I forget if she served them with fish or fried seafood, because for me the slightly tart yet caramelized lemon slices were a revelation.
It was in Morocco or Tunisia, during one of the memorable Mediterranean food conferences that Oldways organized in the '90s. I think I can speak for all of us who had the privilege to take part in those unforgettable conferences if I stress that we learned not just from the local traditions of the places we visited but also from each other's good foods and rich talks. Since that time, I've been fortunate to consider Deborah a friend, although for too long now my husband, Costas, and I haven't seen her and her husband, Patrick. We keep discussing their second visit to our island, but her writing and traveling throughout the U.S. have delayed plans thus far. Nevertheless, we manage to keep in touch, in word and spirit, through our blogs, recipes, and the magic of the kitchen, where the communication truly begins and ends. I'm humbled that Deborah included me in the group of chefs and authors she asked to contribute to her clever and amusing What We Eat When We Eat Alone, a collection of about 100 diverse recipes, beautifully illustrated with her husband's art.
Regardless of the combination you choose under Deborah's guidance, your transformed fruits become a perfect ending to any meal.
Deborah's most recent book, Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm and Market is especially close to my heart. Yesterday a neighbor brought over the first quince of the season and, tired of my traditional baked quince recipe, I immediately turned to Deborah's wisdom. Following her recipe I sliced the hard fruits horizontally—simpler than my usual quartering and coring. The level slices also make for a refined dessert presentation. Then I braised my sliced quinces in honey and wine and the result was spectacular!
Her book, much like her wonderful bestseller Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, is full of brilliant yet simple ideas and suggestions that transform each season's fruits into inspiring desserts. Plums, pears, apples, oranges, and dates are sautéed, roasted, poached, or simply sliced, prepared either for dressing with one of her fragrant syrups and complemented with vanilla ice cream or to accompany her wonderfully light mousse of fresh cheese and yogurt. Regardless of the combination you choose under Deborah's guidance, your transformed fruits become a perfect ending to any meal.
Madison's fruit desserts are not just for people like me, who never feel a craving for rich sweets. Even if chocolate cake is your basic idea of dessert, a fruity addition—for example Mangoes with Minted Strawberries, the unusual fruit-salad Deborah describes—would give an extra dimension to your favorite fulsome sweet. You will also find a few superb puddings in the book, like the warm, aromatic, and deeply flavored Indian Pudding. "I can't imagine why it doesn't appear on every Thanksgiving table, except that it does tie up the oven for a few hours," Madison writes in her head-note. My solution is to have all the ingredients mixed together 30 minutes before sitting at the table, so you can shorten the baking time somewhat. As soon as you take the turkey out of the oven, bake the pudding, and I assure you it will be ready to serve after the leisurely festive meal.