Tastes of the Season: Holiday Fruit

Holiday Fruits

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s time to pay tribute to the festive fruits that garnish our plates every year during the fall and winter seasons. Apples, cranberries, pumpkins, and butternut squash have all been at the heart of the traditional holiday feast for countless generations. These scrumptious harvests can enrich your holiday celebration with endless recipes and decorating ideas. Let the natural splendor of the season inspire you with some of fall’s favorite fruits.

Apples

Apples are one of the most widely recognized fruits in the world. Originating in Western Asia, they were grown for thousands of years before being brought to North America by European colonists. They are a part of the the mythology and religion of many cultures, and provide several beneficial health effects.  

Apples are available in a vast array of shapes, colors, and flavors. With over 7,000 types, it can be somewhat daunting to select the right one for the occasion. In baking, it is important to select an apple that is firm enough to withstand high heat, or you will end up with a mushy mess. While most prefer a combination of sweet and tart, some like to use apples that are mostly sweet such as Fuji, Braeburn, Gala, or Pink Lady, while others stay more on the tart side, with Granny Smith, Lady, or Idared. But, there is no right or wrong apple to use in baking, as everyone has a distinct palate. For apple pie, a blend of firm and soft textures with tart and sweet flavors is a prized combination. Apple pie recipes made with tart apples, like the popular Granny Smith, are usually balanced by an abundance of sugar. Many bakers prefer to use a combination of two or more apples for a nice blend of texture and sweetness. Try experimenting with different apples to create a pie that satisfies your individual tastes.

Aside from eating, apples can be used during the holidays to make beautiful centerpieces. This year, I am thrilled about decorating for my family’s Christmas party. On one table, I will be using an antique cake stand that I found from a discount store and adorning it with glossy red apples, small white candles, and vibrant poinsettias. Other apple decoration ideas include wreaths with petite apples attached, and flower arrangements beautifully intermingled with apples. This luscious fruit can be used in countless ways to incorporate the traditional colors and flavors of the holiday into your home.

Here are some festive apple delights that will satisfy any sweet tooth: caramel apple bread pudding, old fashioned apple pie, apple cider, apple chips, apple-cheese Danishes, iced apple cookies, and the ever popular caramel candied apple.

Cranberries

Cranberry sauce is regarded as a quintessential part of the traditional American and Canadian Thanksgiving dinner. The Native Americans first used cranberries to preserve meat, dye fabric, and promote healing. Today, cranberries are grown throughout the northern United States and are available in both fresh and processed varieties.

Native to North America, cranberries are harvested in the fall when the fruit has its distinctive deep red color. Cranberries are glossy and round with a sharp, bittersweet taste. They provide an abundance of nutritional benefits, as they are full of antioxidants, dietary fiber, and vitamin C, and they can be eaten raw or processed into juice, sauce, and jam. This berry is also used as a delicious addition to many baking products, such as muffins, scones, cookies, and other desserts. When choosing cranberries from the store, always select fresh, plump berries that are rich in color. Quality cranberries should also be firm to the touch. They can be refrigerated for up to 20 days, and frozen for several years. 

Aside from the indispensable cranberry sauce, my family’s holiday party will feature cranberries as decorations. One idea is to fill the bottoms of vases with cranberries to bring in some festive cheer. Candles, pinecones, or flowers can be added to the vases for an elegant addition. Another idea is to craft the popcorn and cranberry garlands that I used to make as a child. Using a needle and strong thread, push pieces of cranberries and popcorn down the string with a knot at each end. This charming garland brings back beloved childhood memories and can be hung from doorways, mantles, and even on the tree.

Take advantage of this tangy autumn treat with some of these cranberry recipes: cranberry sauce, brandied cranberry cookies, apple cranberry pie, cranberry meringue pie, cranberry thumbprints, cranberry salad, cranberry cider, and cranberry sorbet.

Pumpkins

What would Thanksgiving be without Pumpkin Pie? To many, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving at all. Pumpkins are found in numerous fall and winter dishes in the United States. A symbol of harvest time, this gourd-like fruit is large and round with a yellow or orange color. The largest pumpkin in history, Chris Steven’s Atlantic Giant pumpkin, weighed in at a whopping 1,810 pounds. That’s quite a lot of pumpkin pie! 

When choosing a pumpkin for cooking, many prefer to use a “pie pumpkin” or “sweet pumpkin” for its slightly sweeter taste. A pumpkin that is one pound will yield about one cup of pumpkin puree. For pumpkin pie, generally a 2 or 3 pound pumpkin is suitable. Although it is important to use a pumpkin that is free of blemishes and soft spots, it is perfectly acceptable to use a lopsided pumpkin for cooking. The flesh will be just as delicious.

Pumpkins are a great accent to transform any space into a holiday haven. This year, I have embellished the entryway of my home with a few large pumpkins that will last all throughout the season. Miniature pumpkins can be used as table ornaments or place settings to hold the names of each guest. Illuminate your pumpkins with candles for an inviting, warm ambience. Jack-O-Lanterns are not just for Halloween anymore. These beloved decorations can be used for Thanksgiving or other winter holidays with images of turkeys, fall leaves, Christmas trees, snowflakes, or messages of holiday greeting.

Bring the festive flavors of pumpkin to your table with these recipe ideas: pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin gingerbread, and pumpkin ricotta ravioli. Miniature pumpkins make for great casserole dishes that can be stuffed and baked with a mixture of pumpkin, meats, vegetables, fruits, spices and other ingredients.

Butternut Squash

Butternut squash is the most popular variety of winter squash used in holiday cooking. This large yellow-orange fruit has a thick neck attached to a pear-shaped bottom with smooth, ribbed skin. Although it can be found in supermarkets year round, imported from South America, butternut squash is readily available in the U.S. from September through December.

Butternut squash is often served roasted, or used in soups, raviolis, casseroles, breads, pies, and muffins. It has a wonderful nutty flavor with a mild sweetness. Similar to pumpkin seeds, butternut squash seeds can be eaten for a nutritious snack packed with protein. Incorporate this fruit into your winter feast to balance out those irresistible helpings of dessert with plenty of essential nutrients. Butternut squash is recognized by the FDA as a good source of fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, and an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin E. 

When going to the supermarket, look for mature squash that is heavy in hand. The stem should be firmly attached and the fruit should be free of wrinkles, cuts, and discoloration. When tapped, the fruit should have a good woody sound. Try to purchase long neck butternut squash as it contains more meat with less hollow spaces and seeds. Ripe, whole squash can be stored at home without refrigeration for weeks at a time, while cut squash must be stored inside of the refrigerator for no more than a few days. 

Brighten up your winter festivities with some of these butternut squash recipes: Caramelized butternut squash, butternut squash cornbread, roasted butternut squash soup, butternut squash cheese dip, and butternut squash ravioli.

You can also jazz up your holiday gatherings with festive butternut squash decorations. Did you know that a butternut squash can be easily transformed into a festive vase?  Cut off a couple of inches from the top of the neck and hollow out the inside. Remember to buy a squash that has a nice flat base so that it can stand on its own. Fill it with some coordinating flowers and behold! You have an inventive centerpiece that is sure to spread extra holiday cheer. Additional ideas include wooden baskets filled with a medley of squash, autumn leaves, and other gourds.

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All of these mouthwatering fruits truly make the holidays special. This year, stimulate your culinary and artistic passion with more than just a slice of pie from someone else’s kitchen. Even if you are an inexperienced cook, this is the perfect time of the year to try your hand at something new. You never know what delicious and imaginative creations you can achieve until you try. Season’s eatings!

 

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