Blueberries are the only big-deal summer fruit that is native to North America. They 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; more means a fool or a pie. For either one, try making half into a compote and, after it cools, stirring in the other half. Big portions of blueberries alone can be a luxury. 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. The cherry in question is a sweet variety, Bing or Rainier or Queen Anne, usually very cold, although the juice of a cherry left in the sun has a wonderful urgency. Sour cherries’ rewards take more effort. Bake them, stones and all, into a clafoutis. 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, the sharbats that Persian hosts pour for their grateful guests, 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. Cheapskate sophomores on a bender? 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. Neo-tiki sophisticates? Saber the top off, scoop the guts out, and behold the bowl for your watermelon punch. Unexpected teetotalers? Blend, strain, add water and lime juice — that’s agua de sandia. Last minute lunch? Knock wedges or cubes together with red onions and feta or an other salty young goat or sheep cheese, splatter it with oil and tarragon, mint, or anise hyssop. Dinner without cooking? A half-tomato, half-watermelon gazpacho, don’t be shy with the vinegar. All-grilled dinner? Hmm, grilled watermelon is sort of nasty. Just keep it cold and cut it up for dessert.
Horticulturists have bred what they call “personal watermelons,” but watermelons are social by nature, built for crowds, happiest surrounded by humans, surrendered to the whim of the summer mob, whether that leaves them split open on a blanket or thickly Vaselined and tossed into the pool.
Recipes: Our Favorite Summer Fruits