Gardening Basics

Harvesting Uncommon Fruit

Check out these delicious trees and shrubs bearing pawpaw, persimmon, kiwi, lingonberry and medlar fruits.

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Assortment of Fruits

Great-tasting, low-maintenance, pest-resistant, cold-hardy and bountiful harvests of healthy fruit are just a backyard away. Opt for these uncommon fruit trees to produce foods you won't find at the supermarket:

The pawpaw is a small tree that's both ornamental and fruit-bearing. Not to be confused with a papaya, which is sometimes called pawpaw, this is a hardy, easy-to-grow tree.

The perfectly ripe pawpaw has a creamy texture. "If you could picture vanilla custard, with a little banana, mango, pineapple and avocado mixed in, that would be this fruit," says gardener Lee Reich from New Paltz, N.Y. Pawpaw is extremely hardy and has survived at 20 degrees below zero. One drawback to growing pawpaw is that you need at least two trees for cross-pollination.

The American persimmon is another uncommon tree with a history. When the persimmon is ripe, it's very tasty. There are now several named varieties, and many are self-pollinating and widely adaptable. Reich grows 'Zukas' which tastes like a spicy apricot dipped in honey.

"I guess the worst thing about American persimmon is what to do with all the fruit," says Reich. "You can see the fruit is just loaded on all the branches, and I can never come close to using all the fruit." That's a problem with a lot of uncommon fruit trees and vines, but one your friends, family and neighbors are sure to help solve.

Hardy kiwi vines aren't fuzzy like their supermarket counterparts. While the fuzzy kiwi can't grow in lower temperatures, this hardy variety can grow almost anywhere in the country. Hardy kiwis require male and female plants for pollination, but one male can pollinate up to eight females. The peewee kiwi is small like a grape, but much sweeter and more aromatic.

At the end of the season, the leaves remain lush, with a spray being used on the plant. "The one thing it does take is pruning. It's a rampant vine and pruning is pretty much the same as for grapes," he says.

An evergreen groundcover often compared to cranberries, the lingonberry bears tiny red fruits. "It's not a sweet fruit, but to me the taste is far, far superior to the American cranberry," says Reich. "I would never take an American cranberry and pop it into my mouth. I do that all the time with these fruit. It's tart but has a really nice flavor."

The biggest maintenance chore for lingonberries occurs during planting. They're related to blueberries and love highly fertile soil. Amend the soil with lots of rich peat moss and get ready to harvest tons of tart, tiny treasures.

The last fruit is odd-looking and has an odd history as well. The medlar is a tree that reached its peak of popularity during the Middle Ages. According to Reich, Charlemagne had a passion for this fruit and ordered each town he conquered to plant a medlar there.

Perfect for a small yard, medlars are harvested when the leaves change color and begin to fall off. For the next two weeks, they're stored in a cool room as they ripen into a delicious mush. "Unfortunately, when it's ready to eat, it looks totally disgusting," says Reich. "It's brown and mushy, but it has a superb flavor. It's almost as if you took a rich applesauce or apple butter, scoop it out with a spoon and squeeze it into your mouth."

Until these uncommon fruits become common, the only way to ensure a steady supply is by planting them in your yard. Check with your local garden center for the types of fruit that grows best in your area. Most are highly adaptable to almost any climate.

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