Korean Autumn Produce to Fall in Love With
As mother nature blows her cool breath onto the Northern Hemisphere, the last of the year’s crop reaches its peak ripeness and is ready for harvest. Whether you plan to visit South Korea for a couple of days or intend to have a longer stay this fall, be sure to try some of the country’s best autumn produce.
Apples & Pears
One similarity that the United States has with Korea is that by fall 사과 (sagwa), or apples, are at their prime. The vast majority of the half a million tons of apples grown yearly in Korea are Fuji apples. Before you go thinking that number’s high, it is good to know Korea does not import any fresh apples, choosing instead to support the domestic apple market.
In Korea, apples are typically enjoyed fresh as a dessert after a meal and tend to be larger than most domestic apples in Europe and the Americas. To prepare the fruit, it is typically peeled and cut before consumption, with many opting to skip out on the peel as it may contain agro-chemicals, such as pesticides, that a good wash may not scrub off. When thinking of apples in Korea, one may also recall the Korean pear, known as 배 (pronounced “bae”—try using that pick-up line next Valentine’s Day), also known around the world as the Asian pear or simply an apple pear. Unlike Bartlett, D’anjou, Bosc or other European/North American varieties with round bottoms and tapered tops, Korean pears grow round like apples, though they maintain their usual firmness and crunch before becoming overly ripe.
Like apples, Korean pears are typically peeled and chopped before they are enjoyed. They are often used as natural sweeteners in sauces and marinades (all true 불고기 [bulgogi] fans knowledgeable on how to prepare the dish know what we mean!). Additionally, many Koreans give seasonal fruit as gifts, opting for the bigger and more expensive apples and Korean pears to share with friends and family. Similar to how pears can be poached or grilled, Korean pears can be steamed to make 배숙 (baesuk, literally “cooked pears”). While some may refer to baesuk as tea and others as a type of 화채 (hwachae), or punch derived from fruits or flowers, it is, in essence, a fragrant, warm drink. Cooked to perfection, baesuk can be a piping hot remedy for the cold, something to warm you up, or a sweet dessert steamed with honey, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, black peppercorn, pine nuts, and jujube. Trust us, skip that apple pie this fall and opt for this bowl of autumn with an easy to follow baesuk recipe courtesy of Maangchi.
The persimmon, or 감 (gam) in Korean, is a soft, fleshy, and sweet, yet slightly tangy, fruit that comes in a few varieties, such as the small, slightly flat and round 홍시 (hongsi), 단감 (dangam, known as Fuyu) which is slightly bigger in size, and 대봉 (daebong, known as Hachiya) which may resemble a Roma tomato due to its acorn-like shape. Unlike the American persimmon, which is only an inch or two in diameter and filled with seeds, Asian varieties are seedless. With a harvest season extending from October to December, the later the harvest means the higher the chances of having a sweeter, more nutritious fruit.
Growing on trees, dangam ranges in color from yellow to a deep orange, almost red flesh. As an autumnal fruit with a harvest reaching into winter, persimmons are best once the weather gets cold, accelerating the ripening of the fruit as the tree deposits sugars into the flesh. If a nostalgic Western fall flavor is what you desire, dangam, also known as Sharon fruit, boast a bright, light orange skin with a crunchy pumpkin-like flavor that makes it great eaten on its own, like an apple, or tossed in a salad. Since the dangam variety of persimmons are non-astringent fruits, they lend a more versatile property to the mix in their ability to be enjoyed while firm and crunchy or ripe and soft.
Hongsi and daebong are similar, though they vary in nuances of flavor. If eaten before they are ripe, you will be attacked with a mouth-puckering bitterness. Only when hongsi are soft and ripe will the taste buds be rewarded with a sweet, juicy flavor. Daebong gam were historically offered to the king during the Joseon Dynasty and were even considered the fruit of the gods by the Romans. While slightly more fibrous in comparison to their hongsi cousins, the daebong variety are perfect for making 곶감(gotgam, dried persimmons), which are cultivated in a similar fashion as dried figs, prunes (dried plums), raisins (dried grapes), and dried apricots stored to enjoy year-round. Once dried, gotgam can be enjoyed on its own, wrapped around almonds, or in teas. Regardless of the variety, not only are hongsi and daebong naturally low-calorie, sweet fruits, they are also high in vitamins A and C, fiber, iron, magnesium, and calcium to boot!