The word “ambivalent” doesn’t really exist in my vocabulary, but there is no other word to describe my feelings for August.
On the one hand, August is objectively flawless: long, lazy days of abundant sunshine, spontaneous trips to the beach, endless streams of extremely cold wine and a constant parade of flawless produce. Many people skip town, so you can finally get a table at that popular restaurant, and work tends to mellow out, if subtly. Plus, we’re still living it! It’s “the now”! August is summer, blissfully eternal.
On the other hand, August is simply the worst: 31 Sundays in a row, it’s a glaring reminder that all of the things we wanted to do this summer are not going to happen because every weekend through Labor Day is already spoken for. (It doesn’t matter, though, because everyone you like is out of town on a better vacation than the one you didn’t take.) Time to start making plans for October and order the jacket everyone talked about last year. August is summer, defeated.
Fortunately, I have developed coping mechanisms for countering this anxiety, and at the top of that list is buying summer fruit. All of the summer fruit. Possibly too much of the summer fruit.
Watching me at a farmers’ market from Aug. 1 to 31 is like watching a contestant on “Supermarket Sweep,” a wild woman whirling through the stands, fueled by her fear of impending scarcity. I can’t know peace until I have grabbed every last basket of berries, filled several paper bags with peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, apriums and plumcots, and plopped more melons than one person should reasonably be allowed to carry on the subway into totes. I do not have to tell you that the fruit is an obvious metaphor for the last days of summer I am desperately trying to hoard and enjoy.
This is great, because fresh fruit, in its most pure and unadulterated state, is one of the few things in life that is perfect as is. It also presents a problem, because one person just can’t eat that much fresh fruit before it bruises, molds or goes bad.
So what to do with the excess? Sure, you could freeze some of it, but there’s no fun in that. It’s too hot to make jam (I said it!), so that’s out. But what’s in are desserts that allow you to use a ton of fruit at once, require almost no time or skill to prep, bake in under 45 minutes (yes, I’d argue that turning the oven on produces less heat in the kitchen than making jam), or better yet, don’t bake at all.
While it may seem counterintuitive, I spend more time indoors making desserts during the month of August than any other time of year. Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.
Here you’ll find five unfussy, rather foolproof desserts, the kind you can almost pull together with your eyes closed, meant to be made successfully by people with any level of baking prowess (or no baking prowess at all). These are recipes in which fruit is allowed to be the center of attention, using only as much sugar as needed to help each fruit be the best version of itself.
There’s a buttery salted cobbler made with apricots (or any stone fruit you like) and a healthy drizzle of honey, made for eating with obscene amounts of vanilla ice cream; a crumbly, jammy tart made with blueberries and cornmeal, ideal for slicing into wedges and taking with you to the nearest body of swimmable water; a cake studded with strawberries that tastes like an old-fashioned doughnut; refreshingly tart, frozen, icy melon (finished with salt, because eating melon with salt is one of the tenets of summer); and a British summer pudding, a beautiful mess of a dessert that looks and eats like a giant, berry-stained tiramisù.