Most of what we would refer to as “storing” or “keeping” produce are vegetables: roots, including rhizomes and tubers (did you read this blog post?) and alliums (garlic, onions, and shallots). There are, however, a few fruits that last through the coldest months. Sometimes they improve with age; sometimes they require aging.
Winter fruits, like the winter Olympics, do not necessarily have the pizzazz of summer fruit (or the summer olympics). But these fruits are hardier! They do not get moldy within three minutes of picking! I’m looking at you, raspberries. Much winter produce lasts for weeks, especially with proper storage.
What is proper storage? Cool and dry places are universally appreciated. Does “cool” mean your refrigerator? Probably, as fridges hold consistent temperatures. Regular maintenance of the crisper drawers will also extend the longevity of your produce. One moldy pears begets a whole drawer of moldy pears and apples and whatever else is packed into that space. Consider how quickly your fruit will be consumed, as an orange purchased and eaten in the same day (or within two to three days) might not need cold storage.
Considering the ripeness of your winter fruit is also indicative of whether or not it belongs in the fridge. Many summer fruits will not continue to ripen after being picked (which is to say they will soften, but their sugar content is unlikely to increase), but winter fruits will sometimes require ripening off the tree.
Persimmons can be one such fruit. How to describe the flavor of a persimmon? I like to say it has the texture of a tomato and the flavor of an apple. What describes a persimmon most definitely is “astringent.” This determines whether the fruit can be eaten immediately or needs to soften completely. Using grocery store availability as an example, a Fuyu is non-astringent, which means it can be eaten at any point in ripeness. A Hachiya is astringent, meaning don’t eat it until it’s softer than a decomposing pear. Let your persimmons soften at room temperature, and then store them in the fridge, making sure they are not squashed into oblivion.
Unlike Hachiya persimmons, pears have a sliding scale of ripeness and edibility. European pears are one of the few fruits picked at full size, but not yet ripe. Rock hard pears are not harvested too early, rather the sugars develop when stored at room temperature. The best advice for storing pears is to keep them at room temperature until the flesh near the stem yields to your thumb. At this point, pears are best kept in the fridge, as they will continue to soften at room temperature (and eventually be past their prime).
Another orchard fruit requiring time is quince. A cook’s fruit, as Kate Lebo refers to it: “Quince has a satisfying grainy texture when cooked, like a pear that has kept its composure.” Quince not only requires time, it requires cooking or baking or heat in some other form. Why? Astringency! Impenetrable flesh! Acidity beyond belief! These reasons are not from firsthand experience, as I am unwilling to bite into a raw quince (if anyone reading this has tried, please let us know). How can one use these sweet smelling fruits? “With their high pectin content, quinces lend themselves to jellies, pastes and preserves. The word marmalade, after all, derives from the Portuguese name for quince.” writes Laura McCandlish in an NPR opinion piece. Apparently (again, second hand knowledge), if you put quince seeds in a glass with water, it will eventually jell. Quince should be picked (or purchased) when bright yellow, and kept in the fridge. Avoid fruit with brown-stained skin, as this can be an indication of pest damage or spoilage.
Yet another orchard fruit (these are all orchard fruits, come to think of it): medlars. Have you heard of a medlar? If you’re in the dark, don’t worry, you’re not missing out on much. Like quince and some pesky persimmons, medlars have to be bletted. What is bletting? Essentially, overripening. This word is usually applied to medlars, for reasons that I mostly attribute to their near inedibility. This puzzling fruit isn’t cultivated and has very few uses. It makes this compendium of storing fruits because City Fruit did actually harvest medlars in 2023, which bletted in a paper bag while we brainstormed what to do with them. Only one thing can be done with them, which is to add an obscene amount of sugar to the fruit and turn it into jelly.
Last, but in no way least, apples. The fruit of our state. Our overexposure to apples may encourage a sort of disinclination to consume them, but apples are wonderfully diverse in flavor and usage. They can be sweet or savory. They can be cooked or raw. They can last at room temperature for a considerable length of time, provided the fruit is clean and dry. Apples will store in a cool dry place for months. They are the potato of fruit.
This list has, hopefully, assured the reader that winter can be sweet with nature’s candy. For further reading, I highly recommend The Book of Difficult Fruit by Kate Lebo, for informational and entertaining purposes.