Get the Most Out of Your Backyard Fruit Harvest

In partnership withEnter the  ‪#‎shareyourharvest‬ ‬sweepstakes! Post a picture of something you’ve grown to Sunsweet’s Facebook page for a chance…

Enter the  ‪#‎shareyourharvest‬ sweepstakes! Post a picture of something you’ve grown to Sunsweet’s Facebook page for a chance to win $500 or a harvest gift pack.

Summer and early fall is the ultimate time for climbing peach trees, feeling the dribble of sweet watermelon, and searching for that perfect strawberry. As the earth blossoms with an arsenal of delicious fruits, you may find yourself pleasantly overwhelmed with a wide range of seasonal favorites. To savor some of these flavors in less bountiful months, consider these basic “harvest rules” to enjoy your fruit at its maximum potential.

When to pick:

The first step to getting down and dirty with your fruit harvest is knowing the best time to hit the orchard, berry patch, or bushes. Different fruits thrive in different months, and knowing when they’re at their peak will yield the most scrumptious harvest.

  • Early to mid-Summer: Apricots, apriums, strawberries, and cherries. While, in some regions, it’s possible to get these fruits throughout the entire summer, they’re most often at their best in late April, May, and June. 
  • Mid to Late Summer/Fall: Peaches, raspberries, figs, and apples, are all fruits that begin to peak in mid-July and hang around until the cooler fall months. Peaches and raspberries will tend to pop up in mid to late July, while figs and apples make an appearance in mid August and early September. 
  • All Summer Round: Blueberries, plums, and blackberries are some fruits that are usually readily available from July until August, making them great options for all sorts of summertime recipes. 
  • Other factors: While there is a general framework of knowing a fruit’s seasonality, there are still several factors that can go into deciding the best time to pick a fruit. For instance, region and weather will both have a significant effect on a fruit’s readiness. Check out this seasonality chart for more information.

How to pick:

Picking your own fruit can be an extremely rewarding experience as the act of harvesting connects you directly to Mama Earth. Different fruits mature at different speeds, but here are some general rules to help guide you through the summer season.

  • Choose dense and heavy fruits. Heavy fruits mean lots of water. Lots of water means juicy fruits, creating the oft sought-after “juice running down my face” effect. 
  • Check out the color. As fruit begins to ripen, the green chlorophyll begins to break down, revealing the shades underneath. This is why the best berries are often deep reds, or why perfect peaches glimmer like a sunburst. Food scientist Shirley O. Corriher further explains the process here.
  • Give it a sniff. Aroma is one of the best ways to detect whether or not a fruit has hit its peak. One good method is to close your eyes and smell the fruit. If you can figure out what type of fruit it is based on smell alone, snatch that bad boy up ASAP. 

If you’re growing fruit in your own backyard, consider making it into an event. Throw a “fruit-picking party,” and create a menu that correlates to the chosen produce. For instance, if you’re picking strawberries, whip up some strawberry lemonade or a homemade granita. Alternatively, wait until after you’ve harvested your bounty, and throw a fruit-inspired brunch for your friends with a menu created from your own backyard.

Using your fruit:

Jams, pickling, baked goods, syrups, juices—there are so many things you can do with your backyard fruit finds! And while I adore the taste of fresh fruit in its naked glory, some of these methods are far too delicious to be ignored.

  • A good jam goes a long way—and can add some comforting fruit flavor to those winter months. Jamming is easier than you think, and with this guide from Pick Your Own, you’ll be able to transform any fruit into a flavorful preserve. 
  • Long gone are the days when pickling was limited to cucumbers. Pickled fruit pairs exceptionally well with fall-inspired recipes, making it a fantastic technique to create simple, rustic foods. I’m all about snacking on these watermelon rind pickles, or serving these pickled cherries on an autumnal cheese plate.
  • Good fruit syrups will last you well past the summer season, and can be used to heighten a variety of recipes. Try homemade fruit syrup drizzled over ice cream, mixed into yogurt or oatmeal, as a natural sweetener in tea, as a marinade, or poured over pancakes. Alternatively, bottled syrups make for thoughtful gifts for any occasion. This method from The Roaming Kitchen is especially divine.
  • This fad is popular for a reason; freshly blended juices pack a hefty dose of your daily nutrients and taste amazing. This blueberry cucumber juice is perfect for a day of gardening or a back porch social hour. For juicing basics, we recommend this guide to getting started.

Regardless of what you do with your fruit, congratulations on a successful backyard harvest. Growing and harvesting your own fruit is quite an accomplishment, and allows for you to connect to the earth in a more personal, intimate way.

Now it’s time to reap the benefits. Dust the soil off your hands, hang up the garden hat, and take a bite.

How the pros do it:

Tending to a few backyard fruit trees is one thing, but when you harvest tens of thousands of tons of fruit, every detail matters. Here are some fun facts from the folks at Sunsweet about their harvesting process:

  • All prunes are plums, but not all plums are prunes. Prune plum varieties have self-preserving qualities such as high sugar contents that enable them to be dried
  • When plums are dried into prunes, the heat concentrates the flavor. The prune becomes about 1/3 of its original size but retains its nutritional value
  • Prunes are dried immediately to maximize the freshness and minimize transportation time
  • It can take a plum tree three to six years to bear fruit. To ensure stability, Sunsweet is owned by 270+ grower members
  • Sunsweet helps eliminate more than 30 tons of greenhouse gases annually by using co-generated steam power. This is equivalent to the annual energy use of nearly 10,000 households

Enter the  ‪#‎shareyourharvest‬ sweepstakes! Post a picture of something you’ve grown to Sunsweet’s Facebook page for a chance to win $500 or a harvest gift pack.

Written by Amanda Kohr. Photo via Stocksy.