September is officially Organic Harvest Month because that’s the month we generally see the highest percentage of organically grown produce in our stores. That may come as a surprise since many of the fruits and vegetables we have enjoyed all summer start to go out of season! The reason is simple: September is when we see the most significant harvest overlap of the seasons.
In mid-August, the fall harvest season starts and by September, apples and pears start coming off the trees in earnest. Slow growing fall vegetables like winter squash make their debut and cooling temperatures also bring a return to leafy greens lost to the summer heat. And although we are well past peak harvest for most summer fruit, there is still plenty of late harvest fruit to tempt us. My September favorite organic fruits are grapes and raspberries.
At the top of the best of the season list are organic grapes – there is no month that comes close to besting September for flavor and variety. Grapes harvested in September have been hanging on the vine all summer and there are few crops that benefit from the long days of sunshine and warmth more. Red and black grapes are large and sweet but it is the green where the seasonal quality is most noticeable. The light green we commonly associate with the Thompson Seedless variety gives way to a golden yellow. This “amber” coloring of the fruit is the seasonal signal that the grape is the sweetest it will be all year.
In addition to the common varieties, September is also harvest time for a wide selection of regional varietal grapes. The iconic Concord and Muscat varieties, in addition to regional favorites like the Scuppenong and Muscadine, are in peak production. Wine grape varieties are also
coming off the vine and some producers out west have started packing some for fresh sale as well.
Raspberries are at the top of the berry heap in September. Domestic blueberries have finished, blackberries are in decline, and strawberry production has fallen to barely half the peak numbers of June. Raspberries are the only berry that sees an improvement in available supply in September and though the total volume output doesn’t match early summer volumes, the autumn raspberry is among the most flavorful of the season. By September the main domestic production will have reversed from the Northern California fields of Watsonville, to the fields surrounding Oxnard in the south. Both areas will be producing so available supplies are traditionally very strong.
When selecting raspberries, grapes and remaining summer fruit (like melons) this time of year, it is important to note that what makes this fruit special also makes it more fragile. Most of the summer fruit harvested this time of year will have a higher concentration of natural sugars and will not store as long because of this. Be sure to inspect your fruit carefully for signs of damage or decay and try not to hang on to fruit for more than a few days.
Fall harvest fruit is good now but some of the last offerings of summer are spectacular. As the vacations finish and kids and young adults start heading back to school, we all experience the gradual changes that come with autumn. One of these changes is the overlapping transition from summer to fall in produce – a time of incredible organic abundance.