Explore fruit's savory possibilities with Abra Berens' new cookbook

Todd A. Price
Nashville Tennessean
The savory fruit recipes in "Pulp" by Abra Berens include poached salmon with rhubarb salad and pine nut relish. (Courtesy of Chronicle Books)

The chef and cookbook author Abra Berens often gets compliments on her cooking that are a bit backhanded.

"More often than I really am comfortable with, people say that didn't sound good but I really liked it," Berens said.

Often, people are suspicious of savory dishes with fruit, a common approach in Berens cooking. In "Pulp," her latest cookbook, she explores how to roast, poach, stew and bake apples, apricots, cherries, grapes, melon and more. And for each technique, she offers both a sweet and savory recipe.

"We all kind of lean back on the things we normally do," Berens said. "You're looking for inspiration, which is the problem that all cookbooks are trying to solve.

Making fruit savory

The most common way to add fruit to a savory course is in a salad or with a sauce. Think of the mango chutney, which was all the rage when Berens was growing up in the '80s. (And try not to think of raspberry vinaigrette, which was also in fashion but needs to be forgotten).

Dried cherries are common in a spinach salad. It's hardly pushing the boundaries to include blueberries instead, Berens.

"Fruit in savory components is generally an accent more than the entire thing," she said.

Many fruits can be substituted for vinegar to add acid. Fruit can add the sweetness that normally comes from sugar. But fruit also adds textures and often bright colors.

"Pulp: A Practical Guide to Cooking with Fruit" by Abra Berens

The recipes in "Pulp" include roasted chicken with rosemary poached apples, grilled melons with tahini and ginger plum-glazed ribs.

And in case you're wondering, Berens does approve of pineapple on pizza, although she prefers it with pepperoni instead of ham along with Calabrian chilies.

Don't forget the farmers

In "Pulp," between the enticing recipes and encyclopedic information on fruits of all kinds, Berens offers a clear-eyed explanation of the American agricultural system.

"My Northstar in my career is to provide a link between the consumer and the producer, because I've worked on vegetable farms," she said.

Abra Berens' latest book is "Pulp: A Practical Guide to Cooking with Fruit." (Courtesy of Chronicle Books)

She dismisses the myth that organic produce is healthier for us, but it's probably healthier for the environment and the people who pick our fruits and vegetables. She explains why buying local is good for our communities, but she cautions against making moral judgments about anyone who buys their fruit from a supermarket.

"In short, I think there are a lot of good reasons to participate in your local-seasonal food economy, but it does not make you more worthy," she writes. "If the convenience of buying out-of-season, non-local berries means that you and your family will cook a pie together, buy those berries!"

"Pulp" also includes interviews with farm workers and the people who support them. For Berens, people matter the most.

"The sheer number of people who harvest our food who are food insecure is immoral, quite frankly," she said.

Poached salmon with rhubarb salad and pine nut relish

This dish is all about contrasts: buttery salmon, the crunch of rhubarb and fennel, peppery arugula and the singular fatty texture of pine nuts. Fish can be poached in plain water or stock but fortifying the liquid with aromatics adds depth of flavor. Just don’t let it deter you if you don’t have any on hand. If doubling this recipe for a larger party, it may be easier to slow cook the salmon side rather than poach it. To do so, simply bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet, skin-side down, at 300°F until cooked through, about 40 minutes. Then lift the fish from the parchment, leaving the skin (that probably stuck anyway) behind.

Serves 4


1 onion (about 8 ounces), cut into chunks4 stalks celery (about 8 ounces), cut into chunks3 bay leaves5 sprigs thyme1 tablespoon salt4 fillets of salmon or one full side, skin on (about 2 pounds total)4 tablespoons (2 ounces) butter10-inch long stalk rhubarb1 head fennel (about 5 ounces)1 lemon (about 1.5 ounces), zest and juice½ cup olive oil, plus more as needed¼ cup pine nuts, toasted and roughly chopped1 small shallot, minced10 sprigs parsley4 ounces arugula


In a medium pot, place the onion, celery, bay leaves, thyme and salt evenly across the bottom. Lay the fish fillets, skin-side down, on top. Add enough water to the pot to just cover the fish fillets, then dot with the butter. Over medium heat, bring the poaching liquid to a simmer and then remove from the heat. Leave the fish in the liquid to carry over cooking until just cooked through, about 7 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. The fish will start to leach the white albumin from between the muscle layers. Lift the fish from the poaching liquid and gently peel the skin away.

Meanwhile, slice the rhubarb and fennel very thinly with a sharp knife or mandoline. Immediately dress with the lemon zest and juice, and a big glug of olive oil.

In a small bowl, combine the pine nuts, shallot, olive oil and parsley with a big pinch of salt, and stir to mix. Drain the fennel and rhubarb, then toss with the arugula, a big glug of olive oil and pinch of salt to coat.

To serve, top the fish with the salad and spoon the pine nut relish all over.

Reprinted from "Pulp: A Practical Guide to Cooking with Fruit" by Abra Berens, with permission by Chronicle Books, 2023.