The Fruits of Summer Start Now

Thursday, February 10, 2011

We picked figs early in the morning, before the birds could get to their yummy ripeness. Eating them ripe was almost theft, as my grandmother prized figs to make preserves. One fig and its gooey, sugary syrup filled one of her biscuits open just enough to spoon it in. No filled donut ever lived up to those fig-stuffed, Snow White biscuits! No need to plant figs here, either, since we have plenty. If you are planting figs, look for these:

  • ‘Brown Turkey’ is a medium-sized fig, nearly seedless, brown and sweet. The tree is large and vigorous and with reasonable care, makes figs from May-July.
  • ‘Celeste’ makes a large tree with a big crop in June. The fruit is purple-brown with a tight eye that prevents insects and makes for longer lasting fruit.

Peaches are the sweetest natural high I know, especially when juice runs down to your elbow. But I’ll be the first to admit I’d rather pick them at an orchard than grow them myself because I don’t maintain regular spray programs that will control their pests. It’s not hard to do, and I probably should. I’ll admit that, too, since I so firmly believe that homegrown is best. Here are peaches I’d love to grow:

  • ‘June Gold’ is semi-freestone with golden skin and yellow flesh. It has a very low chill requirement so can be grown further south than most peaches.
  • ‘Elberta’ is the freestone peach I’m sure we ate, as it’s an old, honey-gold sweet peach and still good for canning and fresh eating.

My mother took us to Gulfport every summer to join other relatives at my great aunt’s home on the beach. We swam and caught blue crabs, collected shells, learned to play spoons and gin rummy.  We shopped roadside stands for fresh lady peas, huge ears of white corn and amazing green, red and purple plums, even the overripe ones. My mother bargained with the farmer for them to make her famous jelly. I bargained with her for my share and ate them quickly. If the plum is really overripe, you can squeeze one end to push the soft pulp right into your mouth all at once. We spit the seeds out, dried and painted them with fingernail polish on rainy days. By summer’s end, it was quite a collection. My dear neighbor grows plenty of plums, and I swear he has the same jelly recipe. If I can get him to spray them when he sprays his, I’d plant these plums. They’re all self-fertile and pollinate other plums, too. Now that’s a hard-working fruit tree:

  • ‘Bruce’ is a nice-looking tree in the landscape and bears yummy green plums.
  • ‘Methley’ has red-purple skin and is known as the universal plum pollinator.
  • ‘Au-Rubrum’ was developed at Auburn and is a darker red plum.

Kieffer pears are my favorite because they make the best pies and preserves, and you can eat them fresh, too. My grandfather’s tree was a tower in the back garden. In winter, its branches seemed to write across the gray sky and in summer, its shade was more than welcome. Mother ‘put up’ a full shelf of pear preserves each year, a goal I’ve not yet met. We’re planting a Kieffer, even though its blooms can come too early and be done in by a late freeze. It’s a gamble, like most of gardening. Here are a few other great pear varieties we should consider:

  •  ‘Apple Pear’ aka ‘Carnes’ is a sweet, crunchy summer pear and a great pollinator for ‘Kieffer’.
  • ‘Pineapple’ is an oldie but goodie cooking pear, rounder and smoother than Kieffer.
  • ‘Baldwin’ is fine for eating and cooking and a fine pollinator for ‘Pineapple’.


Next week, apples, pomegranates and Japanese persimmons.

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