The air is getting crisper, the leaves are turning colors and pumpkin flavors are invading every conceivable food. Yes, autumn is here.
Even after experiencing the hottest summer on record, there are places in the United States that are still feeling the heat. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from enjoying one of the best things about fall — the fruit.
Forget apples and pumpkins: A plethora of more unusual options ripen just as the leaves turn. (Yes, pumpkins are indeed fruits, as are squash, cucumbers and beans.) From succulent white sapotes to pleasurable pawpaws, here’s where to find six exotic fall fruits:
The pulpy pawpaw may seem like it comes from the South American tropics. It doesn’t. The pawpaw actually grows wild along the riverbeds and in the forests of the eastern United States.
Reportedly Thomas Jefferson’s favorite fruit, the oblong-shaped pawpaw turns yellow when ripe and can have dark flecks. Though the fruit is sometimes called the “poor man's banana” due to its somewhat similar appearance, there is nothing poor about the pawpaw. It grows in 26 states across the country (from New York to Nebraska), but is hard to find and exceedingly rare.
The pawpaw’s taste is best compared to toasted custard mixed with mango and banana. Pawpaws are so delicious that experts agree the best way to consume them is by picking the fruit straight from the tree, scooping out the inside and eating it raw. Word to the wise, though — avoid the skin and seeds, which are known to cause intestinal issues.
The pawpaw starts to ripen in late summer and is best picked between late September and October.
Due to its need for extremely cold climates, the rare cloudberry (also called baked apple berry) is only found in a few spots in the United States: Northern Minnesota, northwest Washington, New England’s upper reaches and Alaska.
For those willing to brave these cold regions, the cloudberry is worth it. Ripe berries turn a bright red-yellow color and the taste is wholly unique, almost like tart yogurt or sweet and sour apples. That makes the berries perfect for alcoholic beverages in Scandinavia, where the fruit is common.
They begin ripening in the mid-summer and the season can last through October, with later-season berries destined for pies and jams. Unable or unwilling to head up north for the fruit? Go to IKEA instead: The Swedish furniture megastore sells cloudberry jam.
While the American persimmon may not be widely known, it’s actually surprisingly common. It grows natively across much of the southeast United States and is found most abundantly in the South Atlantic and Gulf States. Persimmon trees are so pervasive that they can be found as far north as Long Island and as far west as Oklahoma. The fruit is able to withstand both cold weather and high humidity, unlike its eastern cousin the Oriental persimmon.
Orange, red and brown persimmons are can be found between September and November. Due to their delicate and sweet flavor, persimmons taste best when just picked off the tree. Unripe persimmons, however, are not nearly as pleasant — they’re full of tannins (also found in wine), which can cause the fruit to taste chalky, dry and bitter if not fully ripened.
The abundance and sweet taste of the fruit meant that they were beloved among Native populations and early European settlers. Persimmon pies, jams, puddings and molasses were popular in the past — and they are still today.
Called “hedge apples” and growing on the “Osage Orange” tree, these bumpy, large, lemon-looking fruits are neither apples nor oranges — in fact, they are considered to be part of the mulberry family.
This odd-looking yellow sphere is native to the Great Plains. It got its name from the Osage Indians, who call this region home. The fruit itself is not poisonous, but not particularly edible either — it is stringy and slimy. The seeds, on the other hand, can be eaten and taste like sunflower seeds.
Hedge apples are most often used as fall decoration, and are abundant from September through November. The tree’s wood is so hard that it’s used for fences and is considered by archers to be a great wood for bows.
Franciscan monks brought this Mexican fruit stateside in the early 19th century because they thought the California climate would be ideal for the white sapote. They were right. Today, this yellow fruit is available across the Golden State, from San Jose to San Diego (there are also smaller groves in Florida and Hawaii).
Apple-sized, yellow and fragile, the fruit tastes like creamy tropical custard and is best eaten raw. It was a favorite of the Aztecs for both its taste and its calming properties. In the late 19th century, Mexican scientist Dr. Jesus Sanchez proved that the white sapote is in fact a narcotic. Today, the fruit is used in homemade Mexican remedies as a sedative.
This small berry is most often found in the northwestern United States, from Oregon to Idaho (where it is the state’s fruit). Often confused with blueberries, huckleberries tend to be smaller and have a more intense flavor. Huckleberry season usually starts in August and goes through September.
Humans aren’t the only animals that like this fruit: Bears can spend days in a favorite huckleberry patch. Government authorities warn fellow berry-seekers to be “prepared to yield the berry patch” to these much larger mammals.
The very name “huckleberry” holds a considerable amount of notoriety in the literary world — after all, it’s the name of one of Mark Twain’s most famous characters. Twain actually meant the name as an insult — in the late 19th century, it was used as a derogatory nickname for people of little consequence.