A Bountiful Harvest

A new cookbook brings fruit to the forefront, with recipes and narrative that honor seasons, family, and farm-fresh produce.

Photos by Steve Legato

In his introduction to Fruitful: Four Seasons of Fresh Fruit Recipes (Running Press, 2014; $27.50), co-author Brian Nicholson writes, “If my father, Joe Nicholson, had his way, he would teach everyone he met how to plant an apricot tree…it’s an act that symbolizes fam­ily, sustenance, community, perseverance, and a legacy three generations deep.”

Brian acknowledges that not everyone has the time, space, or inclination to plant a tree, but, he says, we can all “learn to appreciate and cook with fresh fruit.” The recipes and the words that follow Brian’s introduction in Fruitful convey his family’s love for their work cultivating Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, New York, and their passion for building com­munity around the prized fruits they produce.

Divided by season, the book highlights the growing and harvesting cycles that pro­duce various fruits and offers up creative recipes to make the most of each season’s bounty. From baked goods and salads to jams, soups, and juices, Fruitful provides a mouth-watering selection of photographs and recipes that will have you running to your local farm stand and then back to the kitchen to make the most of your haul. The book’s emphasis is on drawing out the in­herent deliciousness and beauty of the pro­duce itself and honoring the natural cycle of seasons and life. This is a book you will want through all the seasons in your own kitchen.

Autumn

Apples, Pears, Concord Grapes, and Quince

Some years, summer stumbles unexpectedly into autumn. I wake up to find the blue skies have packed up, leaving behind a brisk, gray horizon of swirling leaves. Other times it lingers, stubbornly refusing to relinquish its sunny hold. We’ve experienced every possible swing of this capricious season, but when we’re lucky, the transition happens almost imperceptibly, with warm days gradually followed by increasingly cooler, longer evenings. This is the delicate balance we hope for most, since it provides the temperature gradients that truly “finish” fall fruit, brushing them with color and developing their exceptionally complex flavors.

Ultimately, whatever the weather brings, autumn remains my favorite season at the orchard, the period when we steel ourselves for the “Great Gathering.” Our farm may be lush with berries and stone fruits in the summer, but fall is when our orchards are at peak production, bearing apples, pears, prune plums, quince, and grapes, not to mention the makings of some great sweet apple cider. With so much harvesting to be done, autumn feels particularly purposeful, each shortening day a reminder that time is dwindling and winter’s freeze is not far off. After months of steady farming, we now have six short weeks to harvest up to 40 million apples, pears, prune plums, grapes, and quince. We’re in the fields by sunrise, maximizing every daylight hour until the harvest moon appears in the early evening sky, hanging so low and large you can almost step into its orange glow.

Our orchards surround Seneca Lake and the hills of Geneva, or what I like to call the “Silicon Valley of fruit growing.” Home to Cornell University’s prestigious Agricultural Experiment Station, Geneva is the birthplace of many famed apple varieties, including the perennially popular Jonagolds, Macouns, Cortlands, and Empires, as well as newer varieties like Snapdragon and Ruby Frost. Our relationship with Cornell affords us access to research and technology that improves and expands our offerings. The first apples to arrive at market are the early-bearing Paula Reds and Ginger Golds in August. These tart-sweet eating apples usher in September’s larger crop of fan favorites, like McIntoshes, Cortlands, Macouns, and sweet, crunchy Honeycrisps—one of the few apples I’ve seen that can turn indifferent buyers into raving fanatics. Before long, classic Empire, Golden Delicious, and Jonagold apples are ready, just in time for cool-weather pies, crisps, and baked apples. Some of our most prized varieties take the longest to mature and won’t reach harvest until November, including spicy Braeburns, tart Granny Smiths, rustic Staymans, and our beloved Fuji, a sweet variety that is the key ingredient in our fresh Fuji apple juice.

Customers associate pears with the later fall months, but we start picking most varieties long before, usually starting at the end of August. Pears are finicky fruits when it comes to harvest. If left on the tree until ripe, they develop a gritty, mealy texture, so we must pick the fruit on the firm side and cure them in cold storage to encourage proper ripening. Asian varieties can hang longer on the branch until almost completely tree-ripened. Agricultural experts are working hard to breed new varieties that will introduce the possibility of “ever-ready” tree-ripened strains (with melting flesh) in the next five to 10 years.

The fruit that really gets customers clamoring are the grapes, which we begin to harvest around the first week of September. First come the Fredonia grapes, followed by the Concords and, finally, the delicate-tasting Niagaras. My family experimented with lots of different grape varieties over the years to find those with the best flavor, and these three were our clear winners. All of these varieties have pips that require seeding or spitting, but the outstanding quality more than makes up for it. For several weeks our pickers hit the vineyards—carefully snipping bunches from the vines, then cautiously transferring the delicate fruit to trays so that they can make it to market unscathed.

Autumn’s best weeks at market are at this time, midway through the season when it all finally overlaps. Majestic purples bump up against mossy greens and rusty reds, and crisp apples are sliced for sampling alongside juicy pears. Customers sip cider, simultaneously swapping summer stories and holiday baking tips. As our season winds down, everyone else’s seems to be gearing up, for school, work, and renewed responsibilities. It’s the last push of the year, the beautiful, bountiful transition between harvest season’s whirling momentum and winter’s stillness. For now, just one extra layer is enough to ward off the increasing chill, but soon we’ll be unpacking our coats and putting the trees to rest for another season.

Recipes

Kale, Apple, and Kohlrabi Slaw

Kale and kohlrabi grow beautifully in cool weather, and you’ll spot them at the market around the time apples arrive. Like many of nature’s seasonal mates, the three make a harmonious trio. Fresh and clean-tasting, this salad is still hearty enough to transition to fall. It’s also adaptable: try raw fennel in place of the kohlrabi or dried figs instead of the currants. Tossing the kale with the warm vinaigrette renders it just tender enough to enjoy uncooked.

1 bunch curly kale, about 8 ounces (230 grams [g]), stems removed and leaves thinly sliced
1 medium bulb kohlrabi, peeled and cut into ⅛-inch (3 millimeter [mm]) matchsticks
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
½ cup (60 g) pine nuts
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
½ cup (120 milliliters [ml]) extravirgin olive oil
Pinch chili flakes
¼ cup (60 ml) cider vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 sweet-tart apple, cored and cut into
⅛-inch (3 mm) matchsticks
½ cup (60 g) dried currants

In a large bowl, combine the kale, kohlrabi, and onion.

In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, toast the pine nuts until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the toasted nuts to the kale mixture. Add the fennel seeds to the skillet and toast until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer the seeds to a mortar and pestle and crush lightly. Return the fennel seeds to the skil­let and add the oil. Heat the oil over medium-low heat until it is warm and the seeds turn pale golden in color. Stir in the chili flakes and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the vinegar and salt and let the mixture heat through for 1 minute.

Pour the dressing over the salad, add the apple and currants, and toss well. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Sesame Noodles with Asian Pear and Bok Choy

Jeff and Adina Bialas’s farm stand has been a welcome sight at the Greenmarket for years. Everything they bring to market always seems like the best of its kind—the sweetest corn, the crispest car­rots, the most fragrant basil. The trick to this Bialas family favorite is to purchase greens so fresh and tender that they need just the briefest sauté. The juicy Asian pear is a crisp surprise, provid­ing the perfect foil for the spicy peanut sauce.

8-ounce (230 g) package soba noodles
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
1½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided Thai chili sauce, such as Sriracha
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1 pound (455 g) bok choy, thinly sliced
1 Asian pear, peeled, cored, and cut into ⅛-inch (3 mm) matchsticks
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into
⅛-inch (3 mm) matchsticks
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the noodles al dente according to the package instruc­tions. Drain the noodles in a col­ander, reserving 1 cup (240 ml) of the cooking water for thinning the sauce, and rinse them under cold running water to cool slightly and prevent sticking.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds until light golden and fragrant; remove the pan from the heat and let the seeds cool at room temperature.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together the peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, hoisin sauce, ginger, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and the chili sauce. Sim­mer for 10 minutes, adding enough reserved water until the sauce has a consistency slightly thicker than heavy cream. Cover the pan and keep it warm over low heat.

Heat the grapeseed oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bok choy and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt; cook about 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the greens are tender and wilted.

In a large bowl, mix the noodles with the warm sauce until well coated. Toss in the bok choy, Asian pear, and carrot. Garnish with the cilantro and the sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings

Grape Brown Betty with Lemon Whipped Cream

This is a classic, humble recipe that will get dog-eared, juice-splat­tered, and flour-smudged in your file box. Basically a bread pudding without the heavy custard or time investment, it’s so uncomplicated that you can almost always scrape one together, even if your wallet is looking slim or your pantry is in a sadly barren state. A few slices of bread and a bunch of grapes, and you’re pretty much good to go.

1 pound (455 g) Niagara and/or Concord grapes, halved and seeded
¼ cup plus 1½ tablespoons (78 g) granulated sugar, divided
2½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of fine sea salt
4 ounces (110 g) soft white bread, torn into small pieces (2 to 2½ cups)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup (180 ml) heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Toss together the grapes, ¼ cup (50 g) of the sugar, 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice, the flour, and the salt. Transfer the mixture to an 8-inch (20.5 centimeter) square baking dish or a 2-quart (1.9 liter) gratin dish. Sprinkle the torn bread pieces over the fruit and dot with butter. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and transfer it to the oven.

Bake until the fruit mixture is bub­bling, about 30 minutes. Uncover the dish and continue baking until the bread is golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Combine the cream, remaining 1½ tablespoons of sugar, the remain­ing 1½ teaspoons of lemon juice, and the lemon zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; whip the mix­ture until soft peaks form.

To serve, cut the warm Brown Betty into slabs and top each slab with a dollop of whipped cream.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Reprinted with permission from Fruitful © 2014 by Brian Nicholson and Sarah Huck, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.