Last week, the weather changed here in northern California. The first storm system of the fall blew through, dropping temperatures by 10°F and bringing several inches of rain. This brought an end to the steady stream of strawberries we have enjoyed all summer and also brought us to the final stages of the summer growing cycle for many tree and row crops.
Fall harvest fruit trees always seem to be the first to sense the seasonal change. As the sturdy, dark green leaves of summer gradually fade and eventually drop, it’s almost as if the trees are drawing in all their remaining energy in anticipation of the long winter’s dormancy. T
he days getting shorter and cooler triggers a color change in many fall trees and row crops — the final stage most growers wait for prior to harvesting their crop. The amount of cool days necessary to bring on color will vary depending on plant type. While there are ways to artificially induce a color change, most experts agree it’s best to wait and let Mother Nature do her work naturally.
Citrus is the fruit category most dependent on exacting weather conditions for color change. Before the first new crop domestic tangerines, oranges and lemons come off the trees, though, there are other unique fall harvest fruits that become available, most notably persimmons and pomegranates. These fruits are also interesting in that availability is unique to the domestic fall harvest season. While there is some southern hemisphere import production, very little of it makes it into the US in our off-season.
The persimmon is a fruit with two distinct families. And like our own families, the two broad types of persimmons have very different characteristics. The most common variety of persimmon produced in the US is the Fuyu — a flat, round, apple-sized fruit that can be eaten firm. Fuyus have a wonderfully unique flavor and texture as well as a beautiful orange color, and they can be cooked or eaten raw. The skin, while edible, tends to be thick so if you are eating them raw it’s best to peel them. I like Fuyus chunked and roasted with fall vegetables like turnips and cauliflower — they add a really nice color to the dish in addition to a wonderful flavor dimension.
Another member of the persimmon family is the Hachiya. The Hachiya is like that distant uncle with peculiar tastes and opinions that needs to be handled carefully. Hachiyas are longer than Fuyus and are more tear drop shaped. They are also extremely astringent when they are under ripe and must be the consistency of jelly before they are consumed. They are too delicate to sell ripe at your supermarket so you have to ripen them at home. Once they reach the right stage of maturity on the tree they will continue to ripen at room temperature. If you have the patience for Hachiyas, the reward is well worth the wait. Removing the skin, Hachiyas can be spread on toast just like jam. I also like to blend them into yogurt and add nuts and raisins for a great fall breakfast. Persimmon pudding is made with Hachiyas and is truly spectacular.
Another great fall addition to our fresh produce offerings is pomegranates. This ancient Middle Eastern fruit has exploded in popularity in the past few years for a wide range of health benefits. Juice popularity is so high, in fact, that it is a challenge to secure enough fruit for the fresh market in years when the crop is small. This year promises to be a strong harvest, though, particularly for organically grown fruit. Pomegranates are great in a wide range of dishes — tossed raw into salads or grain dishes or added to sauces over fish or poultry. The seeds are edible and are packed with dietary fiber.
When we look at the beauty of fall it is easy to stop with just the richness of the leaf changes around us (unless you live somewhere like South Florida where the rich green of the palm trees remains a rich green in the fall). I have a 30-foot liquid amber maple tree in my yard that is the star of the neighborhood for five weeks or so this time of year. But Mother Nature’s color pallet reaches a much broader canvas and the world’s beauty, even as we end a seasonal life cycle for many plants, is truly a wonder to behold. Where’s your favorite place to be in the fall? I can’t decide — I like it everywhere.