On April 4, a new cookbook hit store shelves courtesy of James Beard-nominated Michigan chef and former farmer Abra Berens. The former chef at Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor and current executive chef at Granor Farm in Three Oaks – where she combines her love of farms and restaurants to create one-of-a-kind dinners celebrating the best of southwest Michigan’s diverse agriculture – has released Pulp: A Practical Guide to Cooking with Fruit.
With Pulp, Berens continues her “practical guide” cookbook series, offering a comprehensive guide to incorporating fruit into both sweet and savory cooking. Organized alphabetically by fruit, the book shares tips for buying, preserving and cooking a variety of common fruits, complemented by farmer profiles to connect readers to the people behind the food they buy.
Pulp also features a comprehensive “Baker’s Toolkit” section, where she outlines base recipes that can be easily adapted to include whatever fruit is on hand, from breads and batters to cakes and curds, as well as pie fillings and puddings.
Given her knowledge of the use of fruits in recipes, bake reached out to Berens to get her perspective on how this can be applied to the baking world.
What led you to write this cookbook, focusing on fruits?
Abra Berens: I’m from Michigan, which is the second most agriculturally diverse state in the nation. That diversity comes mostly with our ability to grow a great variety of fruits, so naturally fruit shows up in our regional cuisine. A restaurant guest once said, “You really cook with a lot of fruit, huh?” I had never thought of it before but turned out he was right, so it seemed like a natural topic to explore, especially because fruit pairs so well with savory items.
In what ways can fruits enhance the taste of dishes?
Fruit lends a natural acidity and sweetness that balances rich ingredients and pairs well with a little bit of salt.
How do specific baking techniques complement fruits?
That’s one of the wonderful things, fruit can be prepared a million different ways from eating raw, poaching, baking, stewing, etc. Plus, it is very intuitive to preserve fruit into jams, chutneys, etc.
What are your favorite fruits to use in dishes?
I like tart fruit of all sorts. Apricots and plums are probably my favorite fruits of summer to pair with savory dishes. In the fall, grapes (especially high-quality table grapes) feel like a revelation and welcome entrance to apple and pear season.
Do you see anything trending in that category, specifically for baked goods?
I’m seeing a resurgence of poached fruit. I love it because you can do it in large batches and it lasts for a stretch in the fridge. Plus, I’m not sure there is anything more elegant than a bowl of cool poached apples with a little bit of custard and a cookie sidecar.