The PA Backyard Fruit Growers Association held their annual fruit tasting this past weekend. Once again the event was hosted by White Oak Nursery, an Amish farm and orchard just outside of Lancaster PA.
While the most common fruit at the tasting was the apple, there were a number of rare and unusual types of fruits available for sampling including; paw paws, cactus pears, ju jube fruits (aka Chinese dates), home grown nuts, hardy kiwis, and assorted varieties of persimmons.
These fruits may sound foreign and exotic, but they were all grown and harvested from the landscapes and gardens of the association’s members, or in some cases picked from trees growing wild in the local countryside.
In Search of the Wild Paw Paws
Paw Paws grow wild in Pennsylvania and I took advantage of the opportunity to try this unusual fruit for the first time. They resemble a small, elongated mango and the fruits contain a custard like flesh that is extremely sweet. I was surprised by how much I liked the taste of the Paw Paw fruits.
You’ll probably never find PawPaws for sale, but the Fruit Growers Association hosts a couple of tours each fall where the members go out in search of wild Paw Paw trees in order to enjoy this uncommon and delicious fruit. Some also collect seeds from the wildcrafted fruits so that they can grow their own backyard Paw Paw trees.
According to reports this year’s harvest was a little disappointing, but next year is expected to be much better. I’ll mark my calendar just as soon as the dates are set, and will be sure to participate in the next Paw Paw expedition.
So Much for Chinese Dates
Another new experience for me was sampling the Jujube fruits. Unfortunately this one wasn’t quite as delightful as the Paw Paws. Ju Jube fruits also go by the name of Chinese dates and they do resemble a date in many ways… except for the flavor.
These were fresh JuJubes but they seemed a bit dry, mealy, and without a hint of juice or moisture inside. The fruits were round, brownish-orange colored, and about the size of a small walnut. There appeared to be tiny edible seeds inside, but not much in the way of flavor to distinguish this slightly sweet fruit.
I’ll keep an open mind on this one, maybe these particular Chinese dates weren’t harvested at the peak of ripeness, had been held in storage prior to the tasting, or maybe it just wasn’t a good season for Jujubes… whatever the case, this fruit didn’t really strike me as something special to blog about.
Ever Taste a Hardy Kiwi Fruit?
Another unusual fruit that I’ve been anxious to taste and grow is the Hardy Kiwi. Now before you get excited and say “who in the world hasn’t tasted a kiwi,” let me explain that hardy kiwis are different from the fuzzy variety that is common at just about any grocer.
Hardy Kiwis are much smaller, about the size of a large grape. The fruit’s skin is smooth like a grape and does not require peeling before eating. Kiwi culture is also similar to that of grapes. The plants grow as a vine and require strong support and annual pruning for the best production and quality.
This was another new fruit introduction that I really enjoyed and plan to cultivate in my own edible landscape one day soon. I was surprised to walk into the store and see a small (as in tiny) container of hardy kiwi fruits for sale at the supermarket recently… but the prices they were charging for a handful of kiwis only added additional incentive for me to grow this one myself!
The New Persimmons on the Block
Persimmons are another fruit that borders on the fringe of respectability and has been gaining in popularity along with the Asian Pears. There were close to ten different varieties of persimmons in the line up at last weekend’s fruit tasting.
I’m a long time fan of persimmons, but have not had much experience with the non-astringent types that can be eaten when the fruits are still hard. Most of the varieties at the tasting were of this type and served in their crisp-firm state of ripeness.
The native Wild American Persimmons are my favorite persimmon of choice. These fruits are less than half the size of the Asian varieties and must be allowed to fully ripen and become soft before eating. However in my book they are much sweeter, more flavorful and as close as it gets to harvesting candy from a tree!
Other Familiar but Rare Backyard Fruits
The other featured fruits that would not be found growing in the typical backyard garden were Asian pears and cactus pears. There was also a selection of fresh home grown walnuts and pecans that were pretty tasty.
A lot less exotic were the various heirloom pears and antique apples on display at the fruit tasting event. These may have been a bit more recognizable, but they were far from common or ordinary, as there were close to a hundred different apple varieties most of which are seldom seen or tasted these days.
Later this week I’ll share a partial listing of the many unique and interesting heirloom apples that are being grown in gardens, orchards, and backyards by members of the PA Backyard Fruit Growers Association.
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