Andreae Prozesky isn’t normal, but she’s virtuous.
Every year, it’s the same. It all starts with the rhubarb. Then it’s the strawberries, then the raspberries, the gooseberries and blackcurrants, and then comes the glut of autumn blueberries and partridgeberries and rosehips.
Local foraging. I spend my winters and springs dreaming about, nay, obsessing over local foraging. I dream of someday challenging myself to survive the year on local fruit alone. I’m sure it can be done. Already I’ve been out scouting for tangled raspberry patches and pincherry trees and crabapples and chuckley pear bushes in my neighbourhood’s vacant lots. I’m sure there are neighbours who wonder at my frequent emergence from treed-in urban wilderness, the spots which are inhabited by semi-feral cats and the occasional underhoused human. I’ll admit, it looks a little dodgy. But I really am up to something totally normal. Well, perhaps not normal, but virtuous.
Already in the season, I’ve taken a spin around the bay to pick wild strawberries in a friend’s overgrown field, and I’ve eaten as much rhubarb as friends and relatives can throw at me. Almost.
Some of the spoils of my summer foraging, like the tiny and almost unnaturally sweet strawberries, will be mostly eaten out of hand, thrown over cereal or yogurt at breakfast, or smooshed between my thumb and forefinger to feed to my happy nine-month-old kiddo, who scarfs them down with inspiring abandon.
Other fruits will be cooked down and made into preserves. Crabapples aren’t really fit to eat, at least not in any serious amount (unless you have guts of steel), but they make delicious jelly. Same for rosehips, which grow wild and abundant all over St. John’s. So long as they’re wild roses, and not somebody’s cultivated and possibly pesticide-drenched ornamentals, the fruit is pretty much free for the taking after the first frost. Blueberries and partridgeberries are the best to freeze.
And last year was the first time I ever picked chuckley pears. They grow all over town, in green spaces and along walking trails, and nobody under the age of 65 ever seems to notice them. If you’re not familiar with the name “chuckley pear,” you might know them as Saskatoon berries. People all over the rest of Canada go cracked for them, and they’re so full of antioxidants that I’ve read a number of references to them as a new “superfood” (like chocolate and coffee and pomegranates… good company).
I do, of course, bake with lots of the berries and fruits that I forage over the summer. Usually it’s muffins, but over the last couple days I’ve come up with what I think may be my go-to fruit tart. The base is made with ground almonds and buckwheat flour, and it’s a press-in crust, so you don’t have to worry about messing around with delicate rolled pastry in the summer heat (it’s also gluten-free, if you’re among the gluten-averse). The filling is sweetened ricotta cheese, which you can buy in a shop or make at home (the instructions are in this article here), and the topping is whichever fresh, local fruit I’ve hauled home. So far I’ve tried it with rhubarb (result: yum) and with a rhubarb-strawberry combo (result: double plus yum). I’m fantasizing now about making the same thing with raspberries and blackberries on top, knowing that the raspberries will be gone before the blackberries ripen—remind me to set some raspberries in the freezer for this experiment, will you? And chuckley pears will be great on this, perhaps with some lemon zest stirred into the ricotta filling.
The fruit-jelly glaze is what makes the tart so pretty. You know when you go to a bakery and their fruit tarts are all shiny and gorgeous, and then you go home and make what seems like the same thing, but it just looks kind of amateurish? It’s the glaze factor. It just takes it over the top. I’m not saying you should make a batch of apple or rosehip or gooseberry jelly just to have on hand when the mood strikes you to make a fruit tart, but, you know, it wouldn’t hurt. Failing that, store-bought apricot preserves, with the big chunks strained out, are a pretty standard substitute.
Either way, it’s delicious.
Fruit-topped ricotta tart
¼ cup brown rice flour
¼ cup buckwheat flour
½ cup ground almonds
¼ cup icing sugar
½ cup chilled butter, cut onto small pieces
1 ½ cups ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups fresh summer fruit, pitted/chopped/stemmed as necessary, combined with up to ½ cup sugar, depending on type of fruit (rhubarb will need lots, blueberries won’t need any… judge accordingly)
½ cup light-coloured fruit jelly (rosehip, crabapple, white grape, gooseberry) or heated, strained apricot preserves, optional
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, combine flours, ground almonds, and sugar. Work butter into flour mixture with your fingers until it forms a coarse meal. There will still be small lumps of butter, but that’s okay. Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan. If the dough is too sticky, sprinkle with some additional rice flour.
In another bowl, using an electric mixer, mix ricotta, eggs, and vanilla. In a small bowl or cup, stir together sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Add to ricotta mixture and mix well.
Pour ricotta mixture into crust. Carefully place in oven – the filling will be quite liquid, so you might want to place the tart pan on a cookie sheet first, for less sloshing about. Bake tart about 25 minutes, until the filling has begun to set. Remove tart from sheet and distribute fruit evenly across the top. Return to oven and bake another 30 minutes.
In a small saucepan, heat jelly to boiling, stirring with a whisk to break up any lumps. Set aside. Remove tart from oven and spoon warm jelly over top to cover fruit. Set tart aside to cool, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly.
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