Apples, pears, and citrus are the superstars of the holiday fruit season. While these items are delicious and hold a well-deserved place on our holiday shopping lists, none of them is at their absolute peak season in December. Apples and pears are just beginning to wind down after their high season in October/early November. Citrus is just starting to come into its own—peak flavor isn’t reached for most citrus varieties until January or early February.
There are, however, three lesser-known seasonal fruits that are at their best flavor and availability in December: persimmons, kiwifruit, and pomegranates. While none of them reach the “superstar” status of the apples, pears, or citrus, each is delicious in its own right. Whether in your child’s lunch box, as a quick and healthful snack, or featured on your holiday table, these early winter fruits won’t disappoint!
There are persimmons that are native to the United States, however the two most common varieties sold in the U.S. (and the two that we regularly carry), originated in China and Japan. They are grown almost exclusively in California, and are in season from October through January. Not only are they extremely beautiful and tasty, but persimmons provide an excellent source of vitamins and minerals—just in time for the cold and flu season!
The hachiya is an oblong, bright orange fruit with a pointed end. This is an astringent persimmon, which means that if eaten before it’s ripe, the fruit is extremely astringent and off-putting—it can make you pucker for hours! When it’s ripe, however, a hachiya persimmon is one of the sweetest, most delectable fruits around. A ripe hachiya is extremely soft, with a water balloon like texture. The thick, custard-like flesh makes a deliciously sugary snack all on its own. It also adds a wonderfully rich sweetness and moist texture to baked goods and puddings.
If you have trouble telling a fuyu from a hachiya, just remember: fuyu = flat! These flattish fruit have none of the astringency of the hachiyas and can be eaten when still crisp or ripened until quite soft. Their flavor isn’t quite as rich as the hachiya, but they are still super sweet and delicious—especially eaten out of hand like an apple or cubed in a fruit salad.
Though imported kiwi from New Zealand are available through the summer months, the domestic California kiwi crop comes into full swing in December, and lasts until early spring. Kiwi are one of the rare fruits that are best when ripened off the vine (pears are similar). Vine-ripened kiwi tend to be mushy and susceptible to rot. For the best quality fruit, growers pick kiwi in October or early November when they are still hard. The unripe kiwis are then refrigerated for a few weeks to allow the sugars in the fruit to develop before they are sold.
A ripe kiwi should be soft to the touch, but not mushy or wrinkled. They will ripen on their own if left out of refrigeration—if you want to hasten the ripening process you can put them in a paper bag with other ripening fruit such as a banana or avocado. These fruits emit ethylene gas, which speeds up the ripening process.
Kiwi are extremely high in vitamin C. They are great eaten out of hand (peeled or not). Their unique bright green color also makes them a beautiful addition to a holiday fruit salad or dessert.
These bright red orbs are one of the most ancient fruits known to humans. They originated in Persia (Iran) and the Western Himalayas, where they have been grown since at least the Bronze Age.
Pomegranates prefer a warm climate and dry soil, and so are a perfect match for the Southern California and Arizona growing regions, where their season runs from late October through early February.
In recent years, pomegranates have gotten a lot of well deserved press for their health benefits. The bright red juice is extremely high in vitamin C, vitamin B5, and many healthful phytochemicals. The seeds themselves are high in dietary fiber and unsaturated oils. You might think that something with all these nutritional benefits couldn’t possibly taste good, but here’s the best part: pomegranates are delicious!
While it may be easier to simply drink bottled pomegranate juice, if you want to get the full nutritional benefit from pomegranates, you have to eat the fibrous seeds as well. Though eating a fresh pomegranate may seem a little intimidating (and messy!), it’s easy once you get the hang of it. Simply slice through the thin rind, and break the fruit into two or more chunks. Scoop the seeds and inedible white pulp into a bowl of water—the edible seeds (or arils) will drop to the bottom and the white pulp will float to the top. From there, just discard the pulp and enjoy the seeds—it’s that easy! If even this sounds like too much work, never fear: we sell containers of already extracted fresh pomegranate seeds.
Pomegranate seeds are delicious enjoyed all by themselves, but they can also be used in many different recipes. They are great in salads, salsas, and all manner of desserts. One of my favorite uses for fresh pomegranate is in ash-e-anar, a traditional Iranian soup that features the fruit as well as yellow split peas, ground beef, and mint.