Chiles and Stone Fruit
I love the rich fire of sun-dried red chiles paired with the lusty flavor of stone fruit. If using a lighter fruit like a peach, reach for a darker chile like smoky urfa biber. Darker fruits like plums and cherries would better with bright aji amarillo and aleppo, or tangy guajillo. With all these pairings, I find they work best if the fruit is cooked, even lightly.
Tahitian Vanilla Beans
Pairing vanilla with fruit is commonplace, but it often falls short of its potential. For something special, keep the vanilla extract in the pantry and spring for a Tahitian vanilla bean. They’re expensive and nowhere near as strong-flavored as their Mexican or African cousins, but they have an unparalleled aroma with notes of honeysuckle, berry jam, and cantaloupe. They’re ridiculously good combined with actual fruit, such as in a poaching liquid or a sauce for grilled fruit.
Peppercorns with Mango
Mangoes are luscious, juicy emblems of summer. They’re also one of the few edible carriers of toluene, a chemical in paint thinners that give the fruit a slight turpentine-y flavor. Black peppercorns (and, for bonus points, long pepper berries) turn this chemical quirk to a flavor advantage, emphasizing its harsh bite as a spicy compliment to the fruit’s full-bodied sweetness. It’s an especially powerful combination in ice cream, savory compotes for meat, and toppings for desserts.
Refresh Flavors with Orange Blossom Water
Cooking fruit intensifies their flavors, but they lose some of their fresh, raw aromas. The tiniest amount of orange blossom water works well as a substitute for their brighter notes in cooked applications like compotes and syrups.
Winter Notes on Summer Impressions
Traditionally wintry herbs pair quite nicely with summer fruits. Thyme and citrus is the most famous combination; try peaches with rosemary or strawberries with sage.
Aji Panca with Blueberries
Aji panca is a Peruvian chile with an especially bright, fruity flavor that tastes remarkably like blueberries. Add a sprinkling to a blueberry-laced fruit salad, pie filling, or jam. Aji panca tastes less acidic than other bright chiles, but be warned it packs quite a punch.
Winter Spices with Cooked Fruit
As often as not, I use winter spices with my baked and roasted fruit, such as star anise, allspice, and nutmeg. For example: a plum cobbler with star anise and ginger.
Lavender and Berries
Flighty berries play nicely with deeper, muskier floral flavors. Try adding some pulverized lavender to strawberry preserves or your next pie for some extra complex flavor. Just be sure to use a light touch and cook the lavender for a short time, or it will turn bitter and soapy.
Amchoor and Tropical Fruit
Tropical and thick-fleshed fruits like papaya, mango, and melon have a sweetness that edges on cloying. You can counteract it with a sprinkle of amchoor, powdered unripe mangoes. In India, amchoor is used to add sourness to simmered dishes and curries, but it performs equally well in a fruit salad with thin-sliced onions and some peppery greens.