< Southern Basics

Cooking with Fruit

Using fruit is a kitchen standard in the South. Whether we're making lemon muffins or apple fritters, here are a few tricks we've learned along the way.

Cooking with Lemons

For all the wonderful uses of lemons, baking has to be high on the list. Making something sweet out of a naturally tart fruit is simply magic. Lemon curd and the filling for a lemon pie are basically thickened and sweetened lemon juice. A little lemon juice and grated peel contribute a subtle flavor to cakes, cookies, and breads. Or, a squeeze of lemon can add a flavor boost to fruit cobblers, fruit pies, or your favorite Martha White® Muffin Mix, such as in this recipe for Luscious Lemon Berry Muffins.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you're cooking or baking with lemons:

  • Warmed lemons are easier to juice. Warm in a microwave for 30 to 40 seconds depending on the microwave wattage and the size of the lemon. Then press and roll around on the tabletop a couple of times.
  • For grated zest or peel, grate only the yellow peel—the white part is unpleasantly bitter. A micro-plane grater, which looks like a rasp, is very sharp and makes grating a snap.
  • If you have too many lemons or too much lemon juice on hand, freeze measured amounts of juice, 1 to 2 tablespoons, in an ice cube tray. Store cubes in a plastic bag.
  • One medium lemon will yield about 3 tablespoons of juice and about 1 tablespoon of grated peel.

Cooking with Apples

The best apples for baking are the ones that hold their shape and don't turn to mush when heated. An easy rule of thumb is to think green. Two of the most widely available cooking apples have green skin: Golden Delicious and Granny Smith. Ideal for all kinds of baking, Granny Smith apples have a crisp, tart flavor, Golden Delicious have a more floral taste. Rome Beauty, available in the fall, is a red variety that is also good for baking.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you're cooking or baking with apples:

  • Store apples in a crisper in the refrigerator to retain quality.
  • About three medium apples equals 1 pound.
  • One pound of apples, when diced, will yield about 3 cups.
  • About 2 pounds of apples are needed for one 9-inch pie.
  • To prevent the cut surface of an apple from browning, dip it in lemon juice. (Lemon juice can be used to prevent browning of other fruits as well, such as bananas, apples, pears, or avocados.)

Cooking with Peaches

Quality peaches are bright, velvety, and fresh in appearance. The red blush does not mean the peach is ripe. Rather, the blush varies with the type of peach.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you're cooking or baking with peaches:

  • To peel peaches easily, dip them in boiling water for about 15 seconds, and then run under cold water; pull off skins.
  • To prevent browning of peeled or cut peaches that won't be used right away, sprinkle with lemon juice. (Lemon juice can be used to prevent browning of other fruits as well, such as bananas, apples, pears or avocados.)

Cutting Dried Fruits

Cutting dried fruits with a knife is difficult because the fruits are so sticky. In the Martha White Kitchen, we find that kitchen shears come in handy for this task. It's easier to snip the fruit into uniform pieces because the scissors' motion keeps the fruit from sticking. Periodically dip the scissors blades in water while snipping the fruit. Bits of dried fruits add lots of flavor to baked goods, such as muffins and quick breads.