The fall harvest season is one of my favorites, with cool nights and an almost endless variety of fruits and vegetables to sample, some more well-known than others. Lately, I have fallen in love with the heirloom tomato "Brandywine" --- which is not very red, is impossible to slice for the perfect sandwich, and has a thin skin unsuitable for shipping. The only thing it has going for it is flavor. Inspired by that unlikely fruit choice, I decided to look for some other hard-to-find taste treats.
The fruits and vegetables I discovered have fascinating histories, in the last century as well as in antiquity. And for many reasons quince, currants, gooseberries, rose hips, radishes, and peppers are having a resurgence. Bring an older relative or friend some quince jelly, black currant sauce, or rose hip tea, and you may bring back some long-forgotten memories. These specialty fruits and vegetables probably won't be in the supermarket, but a few farms around the area are growing more of them.
Not just red
Several years ago I accompanied John Martini from Anthony Road Wine Company on his weekly pilgrimage to the Union Square Green Market in Manhattan. Heeding the call of his boyhood home, he brings his Seneca Lake wine to NYC every Saturday, even in the depths of winter.
I reveled in the selection of freshly harvested produce, milk, juice, and baked goods. For some reason it was the black radishes and daikon radishes which really caught my attention. The black radishes looked strange and intriguing. Not really a radish lover, I still bought a few bunches to bring home.
After lugging them home, I discovered that Wally and Carol Liese have had the same radishes at the Rochester Public Market for the past decade, directly across from Heron Hill Winery's tasting stall and where I often broadcast my Saturday morning radio shows. I guess I am not as observant as I thought.
Wally said that the black radishes are available October through December, and keep really well in the refrigerator. Only their skins are black; inside is white and moderately spicy. With a very wet summer, the radishes are not as spicy as when water is in short supply. Wally eats the daikon radish in a stir-fry, where it adds the crispness of a water chestnut. You will find these from August until November.
Liese Farms also grows the taebaek radish, which is mainly available in November and used by Koreans to make Kimch'i. The White Icicle radish is available all season, and is common in Europe as a table radish. Keep in mind that with multiple plantings ripening at different times, the radishes are not available every week.
Every fall I see Eastern Europeans buying quinces from Kirby's stall (number 49) at the Rochester Public Market. Women with kerchiefs take large amounts while most people choose apples and pears. It turns out that the quinces are grown at Brown's Berry Patch in Waterport, near Lake Ontario. Bob and Deb Brown are celebrating the 200th anniversary of their farm this year, and have the only quince orchard in the region, maybe the only one on the East Coast.
The quince orchard has shrunk to one or two acres now, and it will continue to shrink as they plant more blueberries and other crops in their place. If you prefer apples, Bob recommends trying the new Cameo apple, which keeps better than most in a fruit bowl.
The quince has many interesting properties, including the lanolin contained in the seeds. A quince recipe flyer from Brown's Berry Patch includes quince custard pie, steamed quinces, quince relish, quince honey, and quince ginger. There is even a recipe for hand lotion which recommends soaking 1/4 cup quince seeds overnight in one pint of rainwater, then straining and mixing them with 1/2 ounce glycerine, two ounces bay rum, and 1/2 ounce perfume. Many other fruit recipes, including quince brown bread can be found in the Patch's recently published Fruits of the Farm cookbook.
Most people make jelly with quince, but a few, like Mike Tadich, the owner of the Grill at Strathallan, love to eat them raw. He grew up with them in Serbia. When they are in season during October, you will find several dishes featuring quinces --- directly from the Berry Patch --- on the Grill's menu. There may not be another restaurant in the United States that does as many quince dishes.
Hurd Orchards has been in Holley for nearly 200 years, on Route 104 just west of Brockport. Sue Machamer and her daughter Amy have celebrated their history with many heirloom varieties of fruit as well as new experimental orchards they've grown in cooperation with the Geneva Experimental Station, a research facility in Geneva that collaborates with farmers on new fruit and vegetable varieties.
Their farm has over 40 varieties of apples and many acres of flowers, including two acres of hydrangeas. In the fall, look for the Golden Russet apple, which Amy referred to as "The King of Cider Apples." They are also making a special applesauce with Thomas Jefferson crabapples.
Sue and Amy launched a new series of classes and lunches this season called "Lost Arts and Forgotten Fruits." The July class featured currants and gooseberries --- both banned from farms for many years because they were believed to host the White Pine Blister Rust. Several years ago the restrictions were lifted, when research indicated that the gooseberries and currants are victims, not hosts, of the disease.
You may have missed the class, but there are many jams, jellies, and preserves made from red and black currants available in the Hurd Orchards shop. Amy says some wonderful new varieties of currants will available next season, especially Pink Champagne currants. Incidentally, as few as six black currants provide more vitamin C than a lemon.
The October 21 lunch-class will feature rose hips. The lunch will include rose hip tea, jelly, and rose petals, and there will be a workshop to make a rose-hip wreath. Rose hips come in many sizes, shapes, and colors. They also have one of the highest concentrations of vitamin C. In mid October, look for a Better Homes & Gardens article highlighting Hurd Orchards. Amy said the magazine staff was enamored with rose hips in particular. (Info: www.HurdOrchards.com)
The Rochester Public Market is a colorful place, but the highlight is Merle and Sheila Palmiter's stall, with up to 50 varieties of peppers on any given fall Saturday. By noon, there may only be five to six varieties left, so make it your first stop. The colors range from forest green to bright yellow, with every shade of orange, red, and purple in between. They are large and small, long and short, thin and fat, round and ribbed. One of the newest varieties on the farm is Rocoto, which has black seeds and is quite spicy.
Merle and Sheila have been growing peppers for 27 years on their Avon farm. They started with two varieties and gradually added more, reaching 89 this year. The raging hot Habanero and Scotch Bonnet peppers will be later than usual this year after the cool, wet summer. Their peppers are usually available at the Public Market from August through mid to late October, depending on when Avon gets hit with a severe frost.
The Scoville scale measures the hotness of peppers. A mild jalapeno measures 5,000 Scoville units, Cayenne about 40,000, and the Habanero and Scotch Bonnet between 100,000 and 350,000 --- you might not want to take a bite out of those. (In comparison, pepper spray rates 2,000,000 and police-grade pepper spray is 5,300,000.) The spiciness of Merle and Sheila's peppers is indicated by the number of times "hot" is written under the variety name. A friend of mine recently tried the Purira variety, with three "hots." He claimed to love it, but sweat stains began showing on his shirt and he started breathing faster.
Merle says there are two common types of hot-pepper tasters that visit his stall and want to take a bite on the spot: the ignorant and the macho. Over the years there have only been half a dozen that have been able to take the hottest peppers without flinching. As the others break out in profuse sweats and bug out their eyes, they also sometimes develop hiccups as they try to casually stroll away.