Meatier, heartier fall fruits are finding the spotlight on full-service restaurant menus this fall, transforming from dish accent to star. “The trend is lighter, healthier fall meals, like duck paired to sautéed persimmons,” says Maiki Le, executive chef at Los Angeles’ Upstairs 2. “Many fall fruits have sharp punches of acid balanced with sweetness, like pomegranates and grapes, and texture, like a fig’s meatiness or the crunch of an apple, pear, or persimmon, making them satisfying and hunger-filling.”
Trends following fall fruits include chefs zeroing in on preservation, byproduct utilization, and fruit juice sweeteners as well as different varietals, persimmons, pomegranate, figs, pawpaw, and dried fruits.
Chefs are focusing on seasonality more, says Charlie Foster, executive chef of Concord, Massachusetts’ Woods Hill Table; that means buying tons of ripe produce and processing it to have a menu with purpose throughout the year, gaining a longer view into a short, seasonal window. Preserved fall fruits can also give dishes depth like when Dolan Lane, executive chef at Red Star Tavern in Portland, Oregon, tops smoky bacon with kumquat marmalade.
“Chefs are getting creative and manipulating products in interesting ways, like fruit-based kimchi,” Foster at Woods Hill Table says. “We make base products that allow us to do diverse things with the same ingredient and tell the story of why we have that product.”
For Jeremy Hoffman, chef/owner, and Michelle Hoffman, owner/general manager of Annapolis, Maryland’s Preserve restaurant, fall fruits compose jams, jellies, vinegars, bitters, and nectars, including apple jelly in their Vegan Pot de Creme. “Preserves are like vintage wines—like 2017 blueberries— and being focused on season is trending,” Michelle says.
On top of of-the-season produce, customers also want something new or different. “Heirloom varietals are growing, and new and old varieties are becoming popular at farmers markets, like chocolate persimmons, Moon Drop grapes, Hidden Rose Apples, and Green Dragon apples,” Le of Upstairs 2 says.
Intertwining varietals on the plate can show depth in the fruit, explains Lane of Red Star Tavern. “When diners want something different, they’re not necessarily looking for a different fruit, but different varietals of that fruit,” he says.
“Persimmons are the future,” says Amir Hajimaleki, chef/owner of Austin, Texas’ District Kitchen + Cocktails, “I grew up eating them and they’re a good fruit that’s underappreciated.” This floral, aromatic fruit marries with meats and spices like ginger and garlic because it’s hearty, Le says.
Pops of Pomegranate
Hajimaleki says pomegranates are becoming popular as well, with his cast iron chicken in demand: chicken braised in pomegranate molasses then topped with pomegranate seeds. Le also uses pomegranate in a fall salad customers go nuts for, with burrata cheese, grapes, pecans, and frisee.
Figs are versatile; they can be grilled for salads like Hajimaleki’s panzanella salad with cranberry bread, grilled figs, and poached eggs at District Kitchen + Cocktails. “Fruits were dried and on the side, but now chefs are cooking seasonally and sourcing locally so you’re seeing figs wrapped in prosciutto, or grilled, pickled, or sauteed,” he says.
The North-American native pawpaw has gained traction for its complex flavor. “In Maryland, native pawpaws, which are a cross of banana, mango, and pineapple, come in fall,” says Michelle Hoffman of Preserve. “We ferment the juice and have a multi-dimensional component for sauces.”
On top of new and exciting varietals, chefs are finding new ways to use the whole fruit. “It’s using byproducts to impose depth into dishes, like our vegan demi-glace, with apple peels roasted for the stock to give umami, acidity, and bitterness,” says Matt Marcus, executive chef/owner of Watershed on Peachtree in Atlanta. “Whole product utilization is a trend everyone is getting on board with.”
Dried Fruit Revival
Dried fruits, even, are having a revival. “Prunes and old world fruits are coming back,” says Karen Holmes, owner/executive chef of Karen’s Bakery & Cafe in Folsom, California, who serves coffee cake with prunes, dried cranberries in wild rice and barley salad, and dried pears in chocolate-dipped flapjacks.
Fruit Juice Sweetness
“Alternate sugars are a huge trend, and pear, prune, and apple juices make excellent sweeteners,” Holmes says. “They can be cooked down to give a dish body or add more sweetness.” Holmes uses prune juice to sweeten her beef and barley soup plus her short rib stew.