Late-season produce always put me in a fruit frenzy. At the market last week, in a tableau straight from a Manet still-life, golden peaches sat beside a pile of fragrant melons, pints of blackberries laid out alongside. They’re each lovely to eat on their own, but paired with spirits they rise to a new level of indulgence: to sip a fruity cocktail while watching the shadows lengthen is to know why Henry James believed “summer afternoon” were the two most beautiful words in the English language.
I like to imagine that James would have said so while dining in the courtyard of a French inn after a day of “motoring” with Edith Wharton in 1907, roughly thirty years before the Bellini was invented, yet the combination of white-peach puree and sparkling wine seems so natural that it’s easy to imagine that this classic cocktail was enjoyed long before it was named. When faced with a surfeit of white peaches, I prepared batches of puree, which I froze to use throughout the year. (In a twist on the original Bellini, my husband adds a splash of peach brandy for sweetness and to intensify the peach flavor.)
Perhaps the most elegant of fruit-and-wine combinations, the simple pairing of cantaloupe and port could be found on the menu of any classic mid-century French restaurant—I recently spotted it on the menu of the “Champlain”, one of the French Line transatlantic ships sailing from Le Havre to NYC in the 1930s. While the palm-sized Charentais is prized, any sweet cantaloupe will do, provided it is perfectly ripe: It should be fragrant, and the blossom end should yield to moderate pressure. One need only halve the melon, remove the seeds and fibers, then fill the cavity with the best tawny port you can afford and serve with a fancy spoon.
While the moment for peaches and melons is maddeningly short, the window for blackberries may be briefest of all. I can eat them until my fingertips are stained purple, but with a little restraint I can set aside enough to make shrub, the tart-sweet syrup favored by colonial Americans. It’s simple to make, an hour’s work of macerating fruit in sugar until they exude their juice, then straining and adding vinegar. The resulting concoction can be combined with rum and soda for a bracing drink, ideal for those lovely summer afternoons.
Stacey Harwood is managing editor of The Best American Poetry blog and website.