There may be a few late apples still hanging on in the orchard (Fuji, both red and green, for example), but the stars of autumn eating are figs, persimmons, and pomegranates. All are from the Asian continent and were carried far afield early in human history. But any similarity in their ancient history or fall ripening is lost in a close look at their botanical (and edible) features.
The edible fig (Ficus carica) has been grown for thousands of years, and there are a number of selections to choose from. Many grow well in our mild climate, which mimics their Mediterranean origin. Most varieties actually have two crops, one in early summer and the heaviest one just now. These somewhat fragile fruits come in several colors: ‘Mission’ may be the most well-known, and when ripe, the fruits have purplish-black skins and succulent pink flesh. Other varieties ripening soon are ‘Flanders’ and ‘Brown Turkey’.
Persimmons (Diospyros kaki) are definitely an odd fruit, but one that grows exceptionally well here and whose trees provide some of the best fall color in our mild winter area. They come in two distinct types: astringent and non-astringent. The former will pucker your mouth unmercifully unless the fruits have completely ripened and gone soft. Pick them when they are bright orange and the bracts at the stem end are starting to mature from green to tan. ‘Hachiya’ is the most common of the astringent cultivars. There are others, too, and usually a quick look at the shape of the fruit will give you a clue to its type. Astringent persimmons look like big fat acorns with a broad shoulder that tapers to a pretty sharp point. The non-astringent types are flattened on the bottom—more like a beefsteak tomato in shape. Non-astringent persimmons can be eaten raw or cooked while their flesh is still crisp, like an apple.
One of the weirder fruits of the season is the pomegranate (Punica granatum). It’s sweet and juicy on the inside but hard and leathery outside. The seeds, encapsulated in an intensely flavored juicy layer of flesh, are embedded in pithy connective tissue and separated by thin membranes. Some chefs advocate cutting the fruit in sections and whacking them on the rind side with a spoon to propel the seeds into a bowl. The official Web page for pomegranates, gives the following tips for easy removal of the slippery little seeds. First, cut off the crown end (opposite the stem) and score the rind longitudinally in several places. Immerse the fruit in a bowl of water for about five minutes to soften the skin. Still holding it under water, break the sections apart and brush out the seeds into the bowl. The seeds will sink and the membrane will float making it easy to skim off. Drain the seeds, pat dry, and either eat immediately or freeze for later. To collect just the anti-oxidant rich juice, cut the fruits in half and squeeze them in an ordinary citrus press.
Enjoy the fruits of the season!
Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.