Fabulous fall fruit
I stopped at a farm stand the other day. I bought peaches, nectarines, plums, pears, apples, and Concord grapes. They also had many types of melons, from watermelon to cantaloupe.
September is upon us, hailing summer’s end. Fall is the time for fruit! I eat more fruit this time of year because it is fresh and local. Later in winter, my fruit consists of apples, grapes, oranges and their cousins: tangerines, clementines, and grapefruit. George du Maurier (1834-1896) wrote, “An apple is an excellent thing — until you have tried a peach!” Tender, juicy, fragrant, sweet, fresh peaches at local farmstands are irresistible. They are so unlike those hard-as-rocks fruit shipped in from Georgia or California, which become mealy as they ripen on your counter.
Nectarines are peaches with a recessive gene that gives them smooth skin in place of the fuzzy peach hair. Both nectarines and peaches date back many millennia to China.
Sweet, juicy pears are another glorious fall fruit. Today there are thousands of varieties, the most common in the U.S. being the Bosc, Bartlett and Anjou. They vary somewhat in flavor, color, size and shape, but all are sweet and juicy with soft white flesh. New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, the Northwest and California produce most of our “homegrown” pears.
There are many varieties of plums — both Oriental and European. After apples, plums are the second most cultivated fruit worldwide. They belong to the prunus genus and are related to peaches, cherries and almonds. These are known as “stone fruit” or “drupes” because the fruits have a hard stone pit surrounding their seeds. Plums range in flavor from sweet to tart and in hues from green and yellow to red, orange, and all shades of blue and purple. European varieties are hardier than Asian ones. Still, just a few grow in our North Country.
Concord grapes are just beginning to make their appearance; they’re more common in October than September. The Concord is the main cold weather grape variety; more tender grapes do not grow in our region. Though tart and less sweet than other varieties, this native North American grape tolerates cooler climates and is more disease resistant.
Late summer and early fall are the best time of year to buy fresh melons. Fragrant, colorful, juicy and refreshing, chunks of dripping ripe melon are a treat. What’s your favorite? Watermelon? Cantaloupe? Honeydew? Lesser-known varieties that don’t grow in our northern climate include Crenshaws, Persians, Charental and Casaba. A wedge of melon makes a great dessert or snack. Cubes of melon topped with yogurt, fresh mint and nuts or granola make a nice alternative to breakfast cereal. Melon balls or cubes can be added to salads and mixed with other fruit in a fruit salad or dessert.
Apples are the best-known, most common and most widely cultivated fall fruit. Most know the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Cornell University scientists have confirmed that apples — and all fruit — are nutritious and healthy. Today there are more than 7,000 varieties of apples ranging in flavor and texture, and they grow in most temperate regions of the world. Nearly half of the world’s apples — 88 billion apples in 2005 — are grown in China, where many apple pickers earn less than a dollar an hour. But we have lots of great apples grown around New York State and close to us in Champlain Valley orchards. New York state is second (after Washington state) in American apple production, with 41,000 acres divided between 700 apple orchards which produce more than 25 million bushels a year. Just think of all the apple varieties named after places in New York: Empire, Cortland and Rome come immediately to mind; but there are also Fishkill, Red Hook, Ogdensburgh, Seneca Favorite and Suffolk Beauty.
Fresh fall fruit is low in calories and packed with vitamins and fiber. A peach has just 35 calories; a medium apple, 80; a pear, about 100. A quarter of a cantaloupe has 40 calories, and there are just 50 calories in a wedge of honeydew.
Fresh fall fruits are best eaten out of hand. They make flavorful, energizing snacks and are good packed in a lunch. When you’ve had your fill of plain fruit, try them in ice cream, smoothie or fruit salad. For a simple, sweet dessert, combine apples with pears and plums; top with raisins and walnuts, drizzle with maple syrup and bake until soft.
Look for fruit that is fragrant, bright, and neither too hard or too squishy; it should yield to gentle pressure. As long as it’s not too hot, store at room temperature for best flavor. Check often; fresh fall fruit ripens and spoils fast.
Fall Fruit and Oatmeal Muffins
1/3 cup oil
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
3/4 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup unbleached white flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups fall fruit of your choice (pears, apples, peaches, plums)
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In large bowl, beat egg with fork or beater. Beat in the oil and sugar, then the milk. Stir in the oats. Combine flours with baking powder and salt; stir into the batter.
Wash, core and dice the fruit (use any combination – and there’s no need to peel), and stir into the batter along with the nuts. Prepare muffin tins (butter or line with paper liners). Divide batter among twelve muffins. Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Test for doneness with a toothpick; they are done when it comes out clean.
Autumn Fruit Shortcake
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Dash each salt, ground ginger and cinnamon
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or almonds)
Prepare biscuits; whip cream or have on hand.
To prepare fruit:
Wash fruit. Core the apple and pear, and dice with a sharp knife. Peeling optional. Combine in bowl with lemon juice, salt and spices.
Cut plums and peaches in half lengthwise with a sharp, serrated knife, then pull out the pit. Remove skin, if desired. Slice. Add to bowl with apples, drizzle with honey, mix everything together and marinade for about an hour at room temperature.
Fresh Greens and Autumn Fruit Salad
1 small clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon plain yogurt or sour cream
4 cups fresh mixed greens
Fruit of your choice — about 2 cups when diced
1 small red onion
2 Tablespoons slivered almonds (for garnish)
A little crumbled goat cheese (optional)
Crush the garlic with salt, and combine with vinegar and sugar in small bowl or cup. Whisk in the oil and sour cream with a fork.
Wash greens and tear into bite-sized pieces. Drain and combine with the dressing to coat evenly. Quarter the fruit, core or pit, then slice fairly thin. Peel the onion, quarter, and slice thinly. Stir fruit and onions into the greens; divide into four servings, and garnish each with half a tablespoon of sliced almonds and crumbled cheese, if using.
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Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached by email at email@example.com. Twitter: @yvonawrites.