From traditional choices like apples and pears to tart and tangy pomegranates and cranberries, a cornucopia of fruits are seasonal celebrities.
When it comes to serving fruit in the fall, menus often veer to the usual suspects: apples, pears, and cranberries—especially during the holidays. But with more chefs cooking seasonally, fruits like grapes, mangoes, pomegranates, and figs have entered the autumn repertoire.
Here’s a look at what chefs around the country are doing with these fall fruits:
U.S.–grown pears are most abundant from August through December, with 84 percent of the crop grown in Washington and Oregon. While D’Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc, and Comice pears reign among the most-popular varieties, according to USA Pears, some chefs are discovering lesser-known varieties like Concorde, a crunchy, vanilla-flavored pear; Forelle, a freckled and refreshingly sweet pear available later in the season; Seckel, a bite-sized, ultra-sweet pear; and Starkrimson, an aromatic and floral variety available in August.
At Giovanni’s Ristorante in Cleveland, Chef Zach Ladner has added Seckel pear slices to an heirloom spinach salad with duck confit, chestnuts, a four-year-aged Quebec Cheddar, mushrooms, dried cherries, and warm mustard vinaigrette. He has also paired the dessert-like pear with butternut squash, maitake mushrooms, sage, a fig-based balsamic glaze, and porcini butter in a creative topping for his roasted Ohio pork chop.
In Delray Beach, Florida, at Cut432, Chef Jarod Higgins poaches Seckel pears as a topping for baked Brie with maple-glazed walnuts and cinnamon raisin toast.
Purchasing tip: USA Pears reminds chefs that Seckel pears don’t change color when ripening; feel around the stem of the pear and when it’s soft, it’s ripe.
While pie might be the go-to traditional application for apples, Isaac Beard, owner of the five-year-old Pepperfire Hot Chicken in Nashville, Tennessee, uses apple pie filling as a topping for his famous fried chicken, noting that it balances out the heat and spice. The apple pie filling also makes a showing “to cut the richness” in his Tender Royale sandwich, a deep-fried grilled cheese topped with hot-and-spicy fried chicken tenders. The dish recently made a television appearance on The Travel Channel’s Man V. Food. To make the filling, June apples are simmered in water, sugar, and cinnamon, and thickened with modified cornstarch.
At Max’s Wine Dive in Dallas, Chef Patrick Russell stuffs miniature Washington State Pink Lady apples with homemade venison sausage rather than sugar and cinnamon, which is the more traditional, sweet streusel version. “We roast them slow at 250 degrees for 4 or 5 hours so the fat renders and the flavors meld together,” he says. The apples are topped with a citrus mustard and balsamic reduction for extra acid and sweetness.
Other chefs have reinvigorated the Southern tradition of pickling apples for various dishes: Chef Dave Martin, a consultant for restaurants in New York, Boston, and California, makes his “sweet and sassy pickled apples” by simmering Pink Lady apples in a mixture of apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, vanilla, anise, and dried cherries. Paired with homemade Ricotta cheese, “the pickled apples make for a refreshing small plate or dessert,” he says. For more savory applications, he makes an apple kimchi in a similar way—simmering Fuji apples with napa cabbage, brown sugar, Sriracha hot sauce, ginger, and garlic—then using it to garnish pork marinated in apple cider and hoisin sauce.
California is still home to most of the grapes grown in the U.S. because of the state’s temperate climate. Despite the drought conditions, during the 2014–2015 season the state’s growers harvested their second-largest crop ever, according to the California Table Grape Commission. But, other states have bumped up their grape crops as well.
Back at Max’s Wine Dive, Chef Russell pairs blueberry-like concord grapes from Oklahoma with a roasted Texas quail. “We make a quail demi and throw the grapes in until the skin cracks,” he says, calling them “bursted grapes” on the menu. “They’re higher in sugar content, but a little more acidic, which helps cut through the game flavor of the quail,” he says.
Chef Seth Bixby Daugherty, formerly of Cosmos in Minneapolis, has made fritters out of red grapes from the region by stuffing them into balls of Gorgonzola and then freezing and coating the fritters with flour, egg, and breadcrumbs before frying them until golden brown. He serves them atop an arugula salad with grilled pears and a mustardy, shallot vinaigrette.
And at Barbacco Eno Trattoria in San Francisco, Chef Nathan Carter uses grapes for a porchetta sandwich. After roasting the pork shoulder with fennel, salt, and pepper for about 10 hours, he roasts the grapes until they pop and blister, about 20 minutes, and then mixes them with braised radicchio, layering the sandwich on sweet deli rolls with a balsamic glaze, roasted red onion, and Asiago cheese shavings.
Pomegranates, Cranberries, Figs, and Mangoes
The savory fall season begs for the tart, bright flavors of pomegranates and cranberries, which pair perfectly with richer vegetables like squash.
Chef Tony Priolo of Piccolo Sogno in Chicago uses pomegranate seeds for a kale salad with roasted butternut squash. “Incorporating fall fruits into hearty salads is a great way to combine sweet and savory flavors with different textures,” he says.
Cranberries, typically used as a turkey topper, have moved far beyond the Thanksgiving platter into other dishes—particularly in Wisconsin, the state where 60 percent of the nation’s supply is grown and harvested.
At L’ecole de la Maison at The Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Chef Scott Baker makes an apple and cranberry compote for salmon en papillote with leeks and fennel. For the compote, Chef Baker simmers fresh cranberries and apples in a mixture of dry rosé wine and maple syrup.
With a harvest season that peaks in September, fiber- and potassium-rich figs offer healthful benefits in addition to a luscious, savory-sweet flavor and a texture that chefs love. Figs are grown primarily in temperate climates found in California, Texas, Utah, Oregon, and Washington, according to California Figs, but are readily accessible around the country.
“Figs are an exciting fall ingredient to work with and cooking with them helps concentrate their flavor,” says Sarah Rinkavage, chef de cuisine at Lula Café in Chicago. Chef Rinkavage makes the fruit into a butter to use as a coating for homemade potato gnocchi with a soffritto of cooked shallots and gypsy pepper. She dry-roasts the figs on racks in the oven for a few hours to bring out their sweetness and reduce their wateriness. Once dried, she cooks the figs down with sherry and yuzu juice, and then blends the mixture with a little butter for a sweet and savory taste.
While many mango varieties are grown in Mexico and South America, the Keitt mango is the only variety grown commercially in the U.S., and is grown near Palm Desert, California. Harvested in August and September, the green-skinned fruit has a firm, juicy flesh with limited fibers and a sweet and fruity flavor.
“Keitt mango is very tart, which works perfectly for balancing other ingredients,” says Chef Ken Addington at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Desert. “It also offers more meat than other mangoes so we have a much better yield, which helps with production as it can take forever to break down other varieties. We go through a ton of our mango salsa for our fish tacos, and we also use them in our rotating frozen cocktail menu at the Amigo Room.”