I was sitting in the front room yesterday, my head bent over a book and my back to the open window. I was preoccupied with the words on the page, and did not fully note the gaining volume of the wind through the trees. What pulled me out of my concentration was a feeling against my neck. It was raining. With that rain had come a cool that entered the house like a spirit, slipping past the windowsill and settling in.

In our part of Ontario, and from what I hear of the Northeastern United States, it has been one wet summer. In fact, we've had rain of every character.

We were prey to fierce thunderstorms. They felt dramatic and enticingly-wild at first, but gathered with such quick extremity that they more than approached threatening. Lightning lit up the sky with violent fireworks. Thunder rattled nerves and set the mind on edge. The house creaked and groaned with the impact of a thousand million blows.

There was the rain that seemed without beginning or end. It was gloomy weather, and the world seemed perpetually sodden. The rain dripped dispiritedly. Damp, dismal, dreary, and just about any other depressing (another one!) d-beginning adjective you could think of.

There came the rain that wasn't rain at all, but something in between humidity and a low-flying cloud. Wetter than fog, the air was full with suspended moisture that slicked all surfaces, both inside and out.

The moments of sunshine we've seen have been fleeting. Most days there has been rain, or the threat of impending rain, with foreboding clouds looming on the horizon, all around.

What with all of our watery forecasts, the smile that tugged at my lips that stormy afternoon might seem unexpected. But despite all the woebegone times of pressing our foreheads to the windowpanes and watching rain fall down, I still fall hard for the moments of enchantment those same rains can bring.

Take yesterday, with its unnatural midday darkness. All was loudly quiet as I moved from room to room, the constant patter of plump drops muffling most other noises. Now and again I could hear children, the little girls from down the street I think, dancing in puddles. Splashes then squeals. Their giggles sharp and joyful, cutting through the din. The street shone wet, gleaming black as the streetlights flickered on.

It was magic. And it was the perfect time for some baking.

Although fruit desserts reign supreme come summertime, I usually think of crisps as the ideal for cooler months. With their slowly-stewed bottoms and buttery crusts, they feel best suited to autumn evenings curled up by the fire. But with the rain we've had, the decidedly unfussy nature of a crisp fit in beautifully with my afternoon plans of busying myself indoors. And as that rain brought cool as its travelling companion, I didn't mind the idea of turning on the oven.

This peach crisp is gloriously uncluttered with nothing else but the essentials. Nothing taxing to muddle about with, only a layer of sweet cream cushioning plump, honeyed crescents of peach, buried beneath an oaten rubble. When baked, the fruit is exceedingly voluptuous, its flesh supple and its juices seeping out.

Each bite of golden peach was soaked heavy with the memory of sunshine. The rain doesn't seem so bad after all.

SOUR CREAM AND PEACH CRISP

My own thrown-together interpretation of a variety of sources, so I'll send credit to Deb for reminding me of the combination.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup old-fashioned, large flake oats (not instant)
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 1-2 teaspoons crystalized ginger, finely minced (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 pounds peaches, cut into quarters
  • Coarse or sanding sugar for sprinkling (optional)

METHOD

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine flours, oats, brown sugar, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, ginger and salt. Using a pastry cutter, or the mixer on its lowest speed, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse, uneven meal. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir the remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar with the sour cream and vanilla until dissolved.

Take a few scant handfuls of the oat mixture and sprinkle it in the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate or shallow dish. Spoon over the sour cream, spreading to cover completely. Arrange the peach slices, cut side up, on top of the cream. Sprinkle the remaining oat mixture over the fruit, leaving a bit of fruit peaking out of the edges. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the cream is set, the peaches are tender and the topping is golden brown. Allow to cool on a rack for a few minutes, serving warm or cold.

Makes one 9-inch crisp.

Notes:

• I used a five-grain rolled cereal instead of oats alone.

• I leave the skin on the peaches, as it helps them retain their shape and I like the prettiness of their scarlet-stained tips. If you prefer to blanch the skins and remove them, feel free to do so.

• This crisp is best when the peaches truly juicy; it is their moisture that helps set the cream into a layer akin to a custard, rather than becoming stodgy and dry. If you have any concerns, you can follow Sean's suggestion of adding a handful or two of berries (blackberries or raspberries would be particularly good).

If I close my eyes, I can conjure up the memory of my father sharing dried figs with my brother and me when we were little.

I cannot see Dad but I know he's there. We are rather young, as the image in my head is of our childhood home and not the house we moved to in later years. The edges of are a bit fuzzy, and the details are not all there. It is a moment tied to nothing specific, really. For all I know, it is not just one moment, but instead the layered culmination of the countless times we snacked on the honey-sweet fruit. But when I think of dried figs, I think of back then.

Those figs were plump hockey pucks, squat with fat, golden cheeks. Slightly flattened on top and bulging at the sides, speared through their centres and strung together like a wreath. You had to pry them apart from their neighbours, each bearing the impression of the next. Their skin was wrinkled and tough, resistant to be bitten, but giving way to the jammy pulp, gritty with seeds in the most delicious way. Sugary sand. They were toothsome, and as far as I was concerned, the only way one ate a fig.

It sounds silly to say, but I do not think of dried figs as often as I should. More often than not I am distracted by the lures of the fresh variety. Fresh figs are foxy little minxes. On the outside, they are mysterious and musky, with soft skin ranging from the palest green to the deepest black. On the inside, they reveal a flesh that can boast a strawberry blush or a claret stain. They are tempestuous, with only a brief window when they're are at their glorious, ripe peak. After that, it is a steep decline into decay, and the utmost despair.

To be frank, fresh figs are sexier; tearing one open feels like an act of abandon.

But dried figs are making a comeback around here. You see, dear reader, I am wholly besotted with figs that (for the sake of clarity) could be called semi-dried. They were labelled dried in the market, but are a whole other personality than those that I remember from years ago. These tawny darlings retain their flat-bottomed teardrop shape, but their taste is more concentrated than fresh; a deeply resiny, sticky sweetness is found beneath the only-slightly leathered skin. Truly figgy, through and through.

When I came across a recipe for Rosemary Raisin Pecan Crisps, my first thought was "yum!" as it is no secret that I am known to snack now and again. My second thought was "FIGS" all uppercase and grand, as I set about the task of integrating my new crush into the cobblestoned crackers. Swapping out walnuts for pecans as that was what was on hand, and thyme for the rosemary, the crisps were easily adapted to my fancy. The method is simple, requiring pretty much one bowl and a double-bake process similar to biscotti.

The result, a golden stack of crisps as beautiful as Moroccan tiles, each a mosaic of nuts, seeds and fruit. Unforgettably good.

FIG AND WALNUT CRISPS

Adapted from Julie, with thanks.

INGREDIENTS

  • softened butter for greasing pans, or nonstick spray
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup coarsely-chopped dried figs
  • 1/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup flax seed, bashed about in a mortar and pestle or pulsed in a spice grinder
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped

METHOD

Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease two 8-by-4-inch loaf pans, or spray with a nonstick spray.

Spread the walnuts and pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven, stirring occasionally, for about 7-10 minutes until fragrant but without much colour. Remove from the baking sheet and into a bowl, then set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the buttermilk, brown sugar and honey and stir until combined. Add the reserved nuts and remaining ingredients and stir until just blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake until golden and puffed, about 45 minutes. When touched, the loaves should spring back immediately. Turn the loaves out of their pans to cool completely, right side up, on a wire rack.

The bread is easiest to slice when fully-cooled. Leave the loaves to rest at room temperate for a few hours or, following Julie's suggestion, once cooled wrap them well in clingfilm and pop them in the freezer. Once frozen, slice the loaves as thin as you can and place the slices in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Reduce the oven heat to 300° F and bake them for about 15 minutes, then flip them over and bake for another 10 minutes, until crisp and deep golden. Cool completely on a wire rack, then store in an airtight container.

Makes about 8 dozen crackers.

Notes:

• I used a particularly robust dark honey, which caused the loaves to brown a bit quicker than expected. This was not a problem, but something to keep in mind. In the future, I think I will use a lighter honey, not only for the browning but also for a more subtle taste.

• Next time I make these (and there will most definitely be a next time), I am planning on using miniature loaf pans for a two-bite size.

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