They have the cheeriest and most hopeful flavor of the berries, but act fast. What looked like a basket of jewels at the market can turn to mush by the time you get to your front door. Americans seem to be forgetting how good fresh raspberry purée can be — strain and sweeten it, and you are two-thirds of the way to an ice cream sundae.
Left alone with some sugar for 15 minutes they will also give you a topping for shortcake or angel food cake, whose only near rival is a mound of macerated strawberries.
Unlike strawberries, though, raspberries don’t lose their spirit when you cook them. If you can get a flat or two at a decent price, make jam right away. But just a pint, baked with their weight in sugar at 325 degrees for 20 minutes or so and then stirred to dissolve the sugar, will make a very loose jam. It won’t keep long, but it will taste like the morning sun.
A peach is almost impossible to screw up. Before they’re ripe, peaches can slip into a salad or a skillet, where after a few minutes with butter and seasoning (allspice? fennel seed? saffron? sage?) they are ready to meet grilled duck, pork chops or a sliced ham. Once they’re soft all over, eat or cook without delay. Even a few hours in a fruit bowl on a summer afternoon is enough to fur them with mold, after which emergency measures may or may not help.
Blueberries earn their high ranking in part by appearing so often in the wild, spread across valley meadows and mountaintop clearings. The ground-hugging, scrubby bushes have the darkest, smallest, most concentrated fruit, while the high-bush varieties will fill your hat or basket faster. A small haul can be enough for pancakes, muffins or a bowl of cereal. The other trait that raises them high on the list, though, is that even a handful pitched into anything made with stone fruits, or other berries, produces tiny explosions of flavor and color.
Nobody shares a cherry. Its pleasures are private, from the way it rolls loose in your mouth once you pluck the stem to the sudden rush of juice — which in your first taste of the year is always more lush and complicated than you remember — to the quiet, propulsive exit of a stripped-clean pit. Pit them for a pie filling that will make you wish you’d bought 10 more pounds for the freezer. Boil them with sugar and maybe a vanilla bean, and you have a base for sodas, lime rickeys, any number of cocktails, or best of all an ice cream sauce so bright and intense that other toppings can stand down.
You could call its flavor plain. Or one-dimensional. You could say it’s boring and still not get much argument. But complex aromatic compounds did not make the watermelon the champion of summer fruits. No, it is the watermelon’s eagerness to join any party in sight. Carve out a plug of rind, patiently feed the melon a bottle of vodka as if you were giving baby formula to a pet pig, then stopper it up and refrigerate. Saber the top off, scoop the guts out, and behold the bowl for your watermelon punch. Blend, strain, add water and lime juice — that’s agua de sandia.