POP plants orchards with an intention of having as long a season of harvestable crops as possible in our urban Northeast temperate climate. We’ve now experienced our first frosts of the season–bad for many annual plants and crops still hanging on trees, but a very necessary part of the ripening process for some of the late-season fruit trees and shrubs that may be planted in your orchards!
JUJUBE (Zizyphus jujuba)
Jujubes (AKA Chinese Red Dates) are native to Asia but grow very well in our climate, requiring pollinators and generally pest and disease resistant. They should ripen before first frost, but it somewhat depends on the person and prefered use of the fruit as to when they’re harvested. Light green when maturing, I prefer to harvest them when they’ve just reached their full brown color and impart a dry pear-apple-like flavor. If left to ripen longer, and possibly with a wetter season, their brown skin may begin to wrinkle before it cracks, with the whitish flesh inside turning yellow and tasting more like a super sweet, overripe banana. To preserve your jujubes, blanch them, soak them in a lemon juice solution, dry them in a dehydrator or on your oven’s lowest setting with the door propped open, and leave them in a brown paper bag to complete their drying before putting them into storage containers (see more detailed description in link below).
Ripe jujubes at SHARE Food Program Orchard in Hunting Park (Photo by Robyn Mello)
How to Dry Jujubes – http://www.livestrong.com/
Make Your Garden a Candyland with Jujubes: http://blog.oregonlive.com/
PERSIMMONS (Asian – Diospyros kaki, American – Diospyros virginiana)
The difference between a ripe persimmon and an unripe persimmon is one of the most striking. As one of my very favorite fruits, I’m guilty of excitedly harvesting too early & learning my lesson every time. Unripe persimmons are highly astringent, due to a compound called leucodelphinidin which bonds to proteins in the mouth, with their skins and flesh imparting a “filmy”, unpleasant puckered feeling that leaves you feeling the effects for quite a while afterwards. These fruits can ripen before a first frost, but they’re very often ready after. There are a few varieties of Asian (kaki) persimmons that are ‘non-astringent’ and can be harvested and eaten when bright orange but still hard (Fuyu, Jiro, Izu, etc). If you’re not sure of the variety, take a small bite from one if you’re curious! With American persimmons and most other Asian varieties, you want them to be very soft, squishy, and falling away from the tree as you touch them or harvest them from the ground. As such, gently shaking the tree with a sheet underneath is a very simple harvesting method. Pole harvesters are also useful, but their tines may puncture soft skins and flesh if you’re not careful.
Asian persimmons: https://plantogram.com/
Ripe American persimmons: http://www.persimmonpudding.
Noted orchardist, Martin Crawford, writes: “Ripe fruits have a soft, smooth, jelly-like texture, a honey-like sweetness, and a richness ‘akin to apricot with a dash of spice’. [American persimmons] are softer and drier than kaki/Asian persimmons, but have a richer flavour. When ripe, the skin is almost translucent and the calyx (the green cap to which the stem is attached) separates readily from the fruit…. Fruits can be ripened artificially, but must be nearing ripeness on the tree… Near-ripe persimmons will ripen stored in a warm place in the kitchen; to accelerate ripening, put the fruits into a plastic bag with a ripe apple for about a week.”
Judging Persimmon Ripeness: 5 Criteria – http://www.persimmonpudding.
MEDLAR (Mespilus germanica)
Medlars, cultivated for 3000 years and native to the southeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula (Turkey, Iran, Bulgaria), must undergo a process known as bletting in order to be most edible. Bletting involves letting the fruits experience a hard frost, harvesting, and spreading out on an absorptive material for the fruits’ cell walls to continue breaking down and converting sugars until nearly rotten. They can also be left to blet on the tree, but this may be less successful. If you can get past the fruit’s rather unappealing aesthetic, it’s delicious when soft and brown. Lee Reich prefers them “folded with cream; mixed with egg, cream, and milk to make a refreshing gelato; cooked with eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and ginger and poured into a pastry shell; or… just plain unaccompanied.” Martin Crawford suggests making jam or fruit leather mixes with them. When eating, be sure to spit out the seeds.
The difference between an unripe (outer edges) and ripe (center) medlar
HARDY KIWI (Actinidia arguta)
Kiwifruits only captured the attention of those outside Asia since the latter half of the 20th century, but their sweet-tart flavor and jewel-green flesh make them very appealing. Kiwikorners, a local grower in Danville, PA, markets them as “Passion Poppers: a nutrient dense superfruit.” Hardy kiwis don’t ripen all at once, even within the same cluster, so test out a few before harvesting them all at once. When the first fruits start to soften to your touch, you can harvest them all and have them soften to desired ripeness in your kitchen. Often called kiwiberries, these fuzzless fruits can be eaten whole like grapes rather than skinned like most fuzzy kiwis you find in grocery stores. If you have an excess, consider making kiwi tarts, jam, or wine. Be careful, though, heating will muddy the vibrant, green color.
Nearly ripe kiwifruits at SHARE Food Program Orchard (photo by Robyn Mello)
Ripe hardy kiwifruit at SHARE Food Program Orchard (photo by Robyn Mello)
Do you have kiwi vines that haven’t produced fruit yet? They can take up to 5 years to begin producing fruit, but they also require male and female plants for pollination, and they require a lot of winter and mid-season pruning to keep them healthy and properly productive. Though we’ve planted all kiwivines with male and female plants, it’s possible that you need a new male pollinator. Please contact us if you think this is the case.
Hardy Kiwifruit, Cornell – http://www.fruit.cornell.edu/
GOJI (Lycium barbarum)
Also known as wolfberry, goji is a shrubby, potentially vining member of the nightshade family along with tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, and several toxic species. It has been cultivated in Asia for thousands of years and recently came to extreme popularity in the U.S. when touted as an ancient superfood. Fortunately, it also grows in our climate and propagates easily from seed and cuttings. It is best harvested and eaten fresh or dried when the fruits are bright scarlet-orange-red and fall easily from the stem. The leaves are also edible and often used as an ingredient in soups!
Ripe goji berries on the vine (Wikimedia Commons)
Youtube: Growing/Harvesting Fresh Goji Berries, https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Martin Crawford, Trees for Gardens, Orchards, and Permaculture, 2015, Permanent Publications
Lee Reich, Grow Fruit Naturally, 2012, The Taunton Press
This edition of POP Tips prepared for you by Robyn Mello, POP Program Director (10/20/15).
SUPPORT US! If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate.