September is a confusing time for seasonal purists. I'm not saying I'm one, but I do tend to measure the progress of the seasons by what I eat and at the middle point of this month I am always conflicted. There are still a great many fruits available that I associate with summer (berries, grapes, figs and melons to name a few) but what happens in September is we see an overlap into the fall harvest season. While the growers of summer are still churning out some of the best fruit of the season, apple and pear growers throughout the U.S. are entering into the game and the competition at farmers' markets and grocery stores for space and seasonal bragging rights heats up.
Sure we have apples and pears for the most part year round courtesy of far away southern hemisphere countries like Chile, Argentina and New Zealand. The fruit is excellent but for me it not only arrives at the wrong time (summer), it also lacks some of the early variety nuance and flavor of the domestic season. Fall harvest has a regional (even local) character that is difficult to repeat in the off-season. Some early fall harvest varieties are long lived and are with us for most if not all of the season. Many are fleeting though and are finished in the blink of an eye.
The most successful early apple variety is the Gala - it is a great flavored versatile apple. If you buy precut apples, chances are it's a Gala. The Gala also stores very well and has been successfully grown all over the U.S. Following Galas on the harvest timetable are a steady stream of golden varieties - starting with the early Gingergold and continuing with the Golden Supreme and eventually followed by the more commonly recognized Golden Delicious. The Jonagold (a cross between an antique variety Jonathan and Golden Delicious apple) is one of the prized early apples of the season.
Another early class of apple best eaten close to harvest time is the Macintosh. This white fleshed, uniquely flavored, highly aromatic apple has variations depending on where you are in the U.S. Among these are the Macoun, Empire, Fortune and Cortland. The latest star of
the early apple varieties is the Honeycrisp - a cross between the Macoun and Honeygold varieties. This apple has exploded in popularity and is widely regarded as the best early eating variety.
The early offerings in pears are narrower, dominated by the Bartlett. Needing exacting conditions, most of the fruit produced here in the U.S. is grown on the west coast - starting first with California followed by much larger production in Washington State. There are smaller regional harvests of older varieties like the Seckle and Forelle on the east coast and short production varieties, like the French Butter pear, that make their appearances now prior to the flood of varieties arriving in October.
Another fruit that makes a fall debut is the Pomegranate. Prized for its juice, the market in fresh pomegranates has exploded in the last few years resulting in marked increases in planted acreage and experimentation in early varieties that mature in advance of the Wonderful (the main commercial variety). Pomegranates are also a fruit that can be successfully produced organically and with many new orchards reaching peak production age, 2010 has the look of a breakout organic season.
Another byproduct of the overlap in summer and fall harvest seasons is we see the greatest concentration of organically grown fruit of the year at one time. I also take this time of confused dinner themes (some of my combinations can be downright weird) and marvel again at how fortunate our generation is to have such a diverse and wonderful choice of foods. Summer's almost over; let's say hello to fall.