I love fruit. I also love fruit-picking, and I especially love it when both of these things are free. It’s my second year as a volunteer for Not Far From the Tree, a wonderful group that seeks to share the bounty of the many backyard fruit trees within downtown Toronto. My experience with them has shown me how expensive and narrow our produce choices are in a grocery store. To wit, most everything at a Metro, Sobeys or Loblaw comes from outside Canada, often even at the peak of our local produce season. Peaches and cream corn is in full swing now, and yet I’ve see “Product of U.S.A.” on more than one basket of ’em.
Once you’ve tasted a cherry clafoutis made from cherries picked that same day locally (as in, from a backyard in the city’s east end), it’s hard to go back to buying tasteless, mushy, scarily huge black cherry imports from Argentina. You pay nothing for the former, and though they are smaller, they are vastly superior in taste to the latter, and pesticide-free to boot. Once I had that revelation, I started seeing the telltale signs of urban fruit trees (stained sidewalks, wasps and flies, that sweet smell) everywhere, and I couldn’t turn off my radar: Saskatoon berry bushes on Ryerson’s campus; a mulberry tree in the parking lot across from my yoga studio; the crabapple tree at the bus stop near my boyfriend’s work.
Both mulberries and saskatoon berries were in season in early July. My friend Chantal was kind enough to share a goldmine of a mulberry tree with me, and we picked everything our arms could reach. I ended up culling about 5 or 6 cups of berries, which I froze until I found a recipe that fit. Mulberries are sweet on their own, but lack that berry tartness or deep flavour that makes them good candidates for snacking on. They reportedly do well in baked things, or situations where you can add a bit of lemon juice to give it that bit of needed oomph.
Then, I remembered Smitten Kitchen’s wonderfully adaptable Boy Bait recipe â€” so named because of its reported effect on the guys. I wouldn’t know â€” I bake all kinds of fruity stuff during the summer, but my boyfriend seems to hate everything except for bananas and apples. But I love this cake something fierce, especially because of its dense, finely crumbed texture. Ontario freestone peaches are in season, and I would eat those all day for the rest of my life if someone would pay me, so why not? Peach and mulberry boy bait it is.
Recipe after the cut.
I’ve adapted Deb’s recipe just a smidge: added some almond flavour here, doubled or tripled the fruit there. Certain fruits could benefit from some lemon zest, others from cinnamon. But it is addictively good, just as she lays it out. I halved this (using two eggs) and filled a 12″ round pan nicely.
Peach-Mulberry Boy Bait
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Cookâ€™s Country
2 cups plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp pure almond extract (or vanilla, if you prefer)
1 cup milk or buttermilk, if you have it
2/3 cup diced peaches, about the same size as your berries (I left skin on because I’m lazy)
2/3 cup mulberries, fresh or frozen (do not defrost)
* You could also substitute with blueberries, raspberries, almost anything your little heart desires.
For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350Â°. Grease and flour 13 x 9 baking pan.
Whisk two cups flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. With electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated and scraping down bowl. Reduce speed to medium and beat in one-third of flour mixture until incorporated; beat in half of milk. Beat in half of remaining flour mixture, then remaining milk, and finally remaining flour mixture. Toss fruit with remaining one teaspoon flour (you do this so it won’t sink in the batter while it bakes). Using spatula, gently fold in fruit. Spread batter into prepared pan.
Bake in middle of oven until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes if you’re going to slide it out of the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Cake can be stored in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.)
With good reason, many berry pickers (like mushroom foragers) keep their best locations a well-guarded secret. Besides, part of the fun is tracking down your own spots, but here are some resources to get you prepared for next July: