Think bread pudding, not Jell-o pudding.
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Credit: Penguin Publishing Group

In the United States, "pudding" usually refers to a gelatinous substance that you can buy in single-serving cups at the grocery store. But to the rest of the world, pudding falls more in the realm of cake—a baked, steamed, or boiled confection that can work equally well with dried fruit as it can caramel. Think plum pudding and sticky toffee pudding, not instant dessert pudding.

Why is that distinction important? Well, when you start thinking about pudding as more adjacent to cobblers, crisps, slumps, and pies, your summer dessert game will ascend to an entirely new level. Just ask pastry chef Nicole Rucker, the founder and owner of Fiona and Rucker's Pie in Los Angeles. Rucker's new cookbook, Dappled, is dedicated to baking recipes for fruit lovers, taking the overflow from the farmers' markets this time of year and putting them into tarts, pies, cookies, cakes, and, yes, puddings.

Of all the beautiful looking desserts in Rucker's very aesthetically pleasing book, and there are many, the ones that called to me were the puddings. The Summer Pudding, which cleverly uses overripe berries and white bread to make a dessert that's worthy of any dinner party. The ripe berries are simmered with strawberries and brandy, and the juices used to soak through the bread. After eight hours in the fridge, as in an icebox pie, the berries and bread have melded into something much more than the sum of their parts, into an elegant, vividly colored dish that you can serve cold with a swoop of whipped cream, or even vanilla ice cream.

Rucker's ingenuity with puddings doesn't stop there. She also has a recipe that turns the summer bounty of tomatoes into something you can eat for dessert, helped along with a topping of airy ricotta biscuits. For Rucker's Tomato Pudding, fresh red tomatoes mingle with lemon juice, vinegar, and sugar at the bottom of a baking dish before being topped with biscuit dough. As in a traditional cobbler, the biscuits soak up the tomato juice as they bake and expand, giving the dish a crisp top over the sweet and salty fruit. It's an even more creative way of using up all your summer tomatoes once you've done all the sauce-making and canning you can handle.

Get the recipe for Tomato Pudding here.