Illustration by Caroline H Gould
Choosing produce harvested at its peak is your sure bet for flavor and freshness.
Fabulous figs! Fresh figs are among the sweetest and most versatile of all fruits . . . but they’re not really fruits. Figs are fleshy flowers, and there are hundreds of varieties growing throughout the world in places with mild, Mediterranean climates. California is a prolific producer of the most popular types, ranking third in the world after Greece and Turkey. Most common are black mission. They’re small to medium in size, with dark-purple-black skins and sweet pink flesh: a favorite to eat as is, grilled, or baked. Yellow-green Kadota figs are thick skinned and practically seedless, making them a winner with canners and preservers. Brown turkey figs are very moist. Not suitable for drying, they’re perfect for eating fresh: cut up in salads or quickly grilled or broiled. The Calimyrna fig, a pale yellow-skinned fruit with a nutty, sweet flavor, is another good choice for making into jams, preserves, or chutneys. Figs develop sugar as they ripen, but ripening stops when they are picked. At the early stage, a fig offers a light honey taste, with a promise of caramel to come. Very fragile when completely ripened, figs become as thick, dense, and sweet as Fig Newton filling!
Pretty persimmons! Both types of persimmons boast the same beautiful deep-orange hue inside and out and a sweet, rich flavor when ripe. Their textures are another story. The pointy acorn-shaped hachiya must be very soft and almost jelly-like before use. If eaten before reaching full ripeness, the astringent chemical compound still present in the fruit will pucker your mouth. Firm hachiyas may take several days to completely ripen. To hasten the process, place the persimmon in a paper bag with a ripe apple or banana, or place the hachiyas in the freezer overnight. Once thawed, a frozen hachiya transforms into a ripe, juicy sweet fruit. By contrast, flat, tomato-shaped fuyus are ripe while still firm and lack that extreme tartness. Eat them like apples to enjoy the crunch, or slice crosswise to garnish salads, entrées, or desserts.
Perfect pears! There are plenty of varieties to choose from, and you can feel good about any choice you make. Pears are nutrient dense: an excellent source of fiber and a good source of vitamin C. European pears, such as the familiar Bartletts, d’Anjou, Bosc, Comice, and Winter Nelis, are picked when they are mature but still hard, then allowed to ripen to the smooth, rich texture they are prized for. Left on the tree too long, they turn soft and mushy. Asian pears are rounder, with russetted skins and crisp, juicy flesh. They are picked ripe and ready to eat. Known as great keepers, they may be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for two months or more.