POP TIPS: harvesting late fall fruits

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Phil Forsyth

Oct 12, 2023, 5:00:35 PM10/12/23
to Philadelphia Orchard Group

POP TIPS: Harvesting Late Fall Fruits

A How-to on harvesting and preserving Jujubes, Persimmons, Medlars, Hardy Kiwis, & Gojis

POP plants orchards with an intention of having as long a season of harvestable crops as possible in our urban Northeast temperate climate. Although most of the common fruits are now finished for the year, some of the more uncommon fruits we plant are still to be harvested:

JUJUBE (Zizyphus jujuba)

Jujubes often begin ripening in September, but can be picked as late as October. Jujubes (AKA Chinese Red Dates) are native to Asia but grow very well in our climate, being very pest and disease resistant. When they are harvested and how they are typically eaten depends on the variety. When you bite into a 'Li' Jujube in the green stage, you’ll be surprised by the satisfying snap-like quality that reminds you of biting into a fresh apple. Its flesh is not only crisp but also airy and semi-water-like, making for a unique and refreshing taste. Their sweet flavor is balanced with lower acidity, making them an ideal snack for those with a sweet tooth and best for “fresh eating jujubes.”

On the other hand, when the 'Lang' variety matures to reddish-brown, the skin starts to wrinkle while the flesh becomes chewy, almost like a date. And when dried, they become a natural candy with high sugar content and a subtly earthy, caramel-like taste. Making them ideal for “dried jujubes.”

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Ripening 'Lang' jujubes at One Art Center in West Philly. (Photo: POP)


POP Plant Spotlight: Jujube Harvesting and Recipes

How to Dry Jujubes - http://www.livestrong.com/article/556404-how-to-dry-jujube-fruit/

Make Your Garden a Candyland with Jujubes: http://blog.oregonlive.com/homesandgardens/2010/06/make_your_garden_a_candyland_w.html

PERSIMMONS (Asian - Diospyros kaki, American - Diospyros virginiana)

Persimmons are one of the last fruits to be harvested, generally ripening in late October or early November. The difference between a ripe persimmon and an unripe persimmon is one of the most striking. 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. Many of the varieties of Asian (kaki) persimmons that POP plants 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.

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Ripening persimmons at Sankofa Farm at Bartram's Garden in West Philly.  Non-astringent cultivars like 'Fuyu' may be harvested and eaten while still hard.  (Photo: POP)

American persimmons and astringent Asian persimmon varieties must wait until fully soft for harvesting.

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.”

Persimmon Resources:

POP Plant Spotlight: Persimmons

POP Preserving Persimmons (& Hoshikgaki recipe)

HARDY KIWI (Actinidia arguta)

Hardy kiwis ripen between September and November depending on variety and weather. 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. They are now grown locally on commercial scale farms in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. 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: POP)

Ripe hardy kiwifruit at SHARE Food Program Orchard (photo: POP)

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 separate male and female plants for pollination. Cultivars 'Issai' and 'Prolific' are known to be self-fertile.

Kiwiberry Resources:


GOJI (Lycium barbarum)

Also known as wolfberry, goji is a shrubby, potentially vining member of the nightshade family which also includes 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! Ripens late summer into fall.

Ripe goji berries on the vine (Wikimedia Commons)


Youtube: Growing/Harvesting Fresh Goji Berries, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1a4eOEoeF4

MEDLAR (Mespilus germanica)

Medlars are generally the last of all orchard fruits to be harvested, usually in November after the first frost. 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 (white interior) and ripe (brown interior) medlar




Other Late Season Fruit!

There are other fruits that often ripen in mid October and beyond, including maypops, hawthorns, and ginkgo nuts.

Overall resources

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 originally prepared by Robyn Mello.

Phil Forsyth, Co-Executive Director
Philadelphia Orchard Project
Pronouns: he/him

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